After crafting two horror outings obsessed with parasites and diseases and orifices, David Cronenberg’s Fast Company veers in a whole different direction – kind of. This 1979 picture is a quirk in the system in a lot of ways, but in a lot of other ways it makes a certain kind of sense.
For one thing, Fast Company concerns auto racing. Cronenberg’s liking for cars can be traced back to the affectionate way he arranges collisions in Rabid and he insists his interest in machines has tended to the metaphysical, so it stands to reason that there might be something more under the hood of this Alberta-shot B-movie.
The picture concerns drag racing star Lonnie Johnson (William Smith) as he’s putting in a final run with his oil company sponsors at Fast Company. He clashes with the representative Phil Adamson (John Saxon), who says there isn’t enough cash in the budget to win. It’s the name he wants to sell, the oil he wants to push.
Lonnie and Phil continue to conflict all the way through the racing circuit. Along the way, there are girls and car crashes and nasty complicity with a rival racing team. There’s an up-and-comer by the name of Billy Brooker (Nicholas Campbell). Lonnie’s trying to guide the kid, but Phil insists on keeping his name on the marquee.
Personalities run deep in the racing circuit and Cronenberg does well to capture the angles. He keeps things close to the ground, running an almost documentary style that benefits greatly from Mark Irwin’s cinematography. The drag races are captured in ruptures of speed, pavement and fire. The seared rubber stings the nose.
There is something about the movement of machines and the way they can fly apart in a torrent of flame. Cronenberg’s retooling of the Phil Savath and Courtney Smith screenplay compresses more of the near-spirituality of car crashes and explosions, giving dense air to the intrinsic peril of being behind the wheel while steel skyrockets down a track at unbearable speeds.
The drivers’ lives are unconventional and there’s constantly a lot of pride on the line. Billy pitches a royal fit when Lonnie tells him he won’t be running. He pitches another one when he has to shift his starting lane at the last minute. He doesn’t want to be shown up. He doesn’t want to take any chances.
The drivers try to find love and affection where and when they can. Billy hooks up with a couple of hitchhikers and shows them the cowboy way, but he really has an eye for the cute new Fast Company girl (Judy Foster). Lonnie has a woman from Seattle (Claudia Jennings) and he tries to squeeze in visits when he can.
Lonnie’s collisions with the modern world could be viewed as decidedly Cronenbergian. He’s a creature from another time and he’s being replaced by a dude who decants motor oil on women. Lonnie doesn’t want to hawk the product any more, which essentially means he doesn’t want to hawk his soul anymore.
Fast Company isn’t often cited as among Cronenberg’s best, but it’s a feisty and absorbing picture. It finds the director playing in another field to be sure, but the psychosexual plotting still registers and the auteur’s concerns about modern life and its oil-drenched accoutrements remain as fixed to the scorching asphalt as ever.