A Homicidal Vehicle Stuck in Third Gear
By Lou Lumenick
CHRISTINE is no less than the third Stephen King novel to be filmed this year, and it's by far the best. That's not exactly the highest accolate: The movie editions of CUJO and DEAD ZONE were such utterly dismal vehicles that even thought CHRISTINE never really gets into fourth gear, she looks like a Prosche by comparison.
CHRISTINE is a red 1958 Plymouth Fury, and it's clear from the outset that she's not your typical run-of-the-assembly-line product. Before she even leaves the factory, one worker has been injured (by a falling trunk lid) and another has died from supernatural causes.
Cut to Rockbridge, Calif., 1978. CHRISTINE'S body is full of dents and she's rusted to a deep maroon. Entger Arnie Cunningham, a shy, ungainly teen-ager who spies the vintage car for sale. It's love at first sight. "Maybe for the first time in my life," Arnie sighs, "I've found something even uglier than me. And I know I can fix her up."
Little does Arnie suspect that CHRISTINE has a past: Her previous owner took a fatal dose from her tailpipe after his wife and daughter suffered from auto-related deaths.
Arnie and CHRISTINE get pretty together. He painstakingly restors CHRISTINE'S battered body, and she gives him the confidence to take off his glasses and pick up Leigh, the prettiest girl in the high school. Only CHRISTINE -who reciprocates Arnie's feelings by playing old rock-and-roll songs with lyrics like "I don't know why I love you" on her radio-gets jealous, Leigh suffers a near-fatal mishap. Arnie's best friend, Dennis, is seriously injured after expressing reservations about Arnie's relationship with CHRISTINE.
CHRISTINE inspires outright hostility among a band of teen-age thugs who had been happily bullying Arnie. But not to worry, with Arnie's encouragement, CHRISTINE can use her supernatural powers to heal her wounds from a near-totaling at the hands and exact the best revenge in any of King's films since Brian De Palma's CARRIE.
The special effects are wonderful. CHRISTINE is undoubtedly the first movie where most of the budget was spent on body work. But in other ways CHRISTINE suffers from a thrown-together look that seems to betray the haste necessary to rush it onto movie theaters while King's book was still topping the best-seller charts.
Keith Gordon, who played the young computer whip in De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL, is amusing as Arnie. He seems to fully appreciate Carpenter's tongue-in-cheek approach-only a Steven Spielberg DUEL could bring off a story about a homicidal vehicle with a straight face-that mostly soft-pedals shocks or irony in favor of laughs.