"Grand Theft Auto" once again finds Ron Howard behind the wheel of a car with a girl. In this movie, Howard plays the poor but saintly Sam Freeman, a guy who just wants to marry Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan), the daughter of a wealthy would be politician named Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill). When Paula comes home to announce her plans, the parents go through the roof. Dad goes so far as to forbid his daughter to marry such a common man, which results in the two making a run for it in Bigby's Rolls Royce. When Paula's rich former boyfriend, a goof by the name of Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke), finds out about his girl heading for the chapel without him, he calls into the local radio station and offers a hefty reward for their capture. Predictably, a whole assortment of oddballs hears about the cash prize and takes to the streets in an effort to bring Sam and Paula down. You've got Ace (Clint Howard) and his dorky buddy tooling down the highway in a hotrod, a gang of private detectives hired by Bigby Powers, a greedy preacher in a stolen cop car, and Collins's mother Vivian (Marian Ross!) all getting in on the chase. Too, the local disc jockey, Curly Q. Brown (Don Steele), oversees the unfolding fiasco first from his comfy studio and later from a helicopter circling above the madness.
Car crashes, reckless driving, and bad attitudes towards law and order dominate "Grand Theft Auto." And really, would we want it any other way? Watch Collins Hedgeworth smash up several expensive cars chasing his love! Watch Marion Ross ham it up as the snobby Vivian Hedgeworth! Watch Ron Howard chuck his Richie Cunningham image as he actually raises his voice to another human being! Watch a truckload of hicks chuck dynamite at Opie Taylor! It's all in good fun, and it's done much better than "Eat My Dust!" Instead of endless shots of cars racing around the streets of a small town, "Grand Theft Auto" actually takes the action out on the freeway as the two lovebirds attempt to make it to Las Vegas before their enemies capture them. Just in case crunching metal and tires kicking up pounds of dust in the desert starts to bore, you get a subplot about the media feeding on other people's personal affairs with the heated exchanges between Curly Q. Brown and Sam Freeman. There's even the requisite we're-getting-married-no-we're-not-now-we-will-again thing going on between Freeman and Powers.
It didn't take long to like this movie better than "Eat My Dust!" It's hard not to look at all the good movies Ron Howard has made since this one and not read some of that success back into "Grand Theft Auto," but this movie just looks better than most Roger Corman sponsored low budget disasters. Is it Ron Howard's influence as director that elevates this film above "Eat My Dust?" I don't know, but the pacing, editing, and production values look better here than in its immediate predecessor. Nancy Morgan is a better female lead than Christopher Norris was in the first film, Howard's character is more interesting, and Marion Ross's gimmicky inclusion in the cast does give "Grand Theft Auto" a certain charm. About the only drawback I had with the film is Don Steele, a supposedly famous East Coast disc jockey in real life who goes overboard here. He should have stayed out of sight; he's a geeky looking skinny dude with bad teeth in dark aviator glasses that adds little to the movie-except when he drives a car through a small house while giving a blow by blow description of the event.
Yep, "Grand Theft Auto" is a lot of fun. It's not a great movie, not by any means, but it is a huge improvement over the tepid "Eat My Dust!" Extras on the DVD exceed the usual Corman disc release. You get a bunch of trailers, the usual Leonard Maltin/Roger Corman comments, a commentary track, and an interesting interview with Corman and Howard. Ron Howard always comes off as a nice guy, and he really comes across as someone who knows he owes Roger Corman a huge debt of gratitude for giving him the chance to direct his first film. "Grand Theft Auto" occasionally fails to click, but it's worth a watch.
The young lovers are off - streaking across the desert toward Las Vegas and marriage. However, Bigby isn't going to take this sitting down, especially since he believes his political chances will be seriously jeopardized if his daughter marries so far beneath her. Bigby calls upon a trusted private investigator, Ned Slinker) (RANCE HOWARD), who promises to use his usual discretion in getting Paula back for Bigby. Meanwhile, Collins Hedgeworth gets winds of his presumed fiancée's flight and takes off in furious pursuit in his Porsche after posting a $25,000 reward for her return. When Collins' mother Vivian Hedgeworth (MARION ROSS) realizes her son has disappeared, she announces another $25,000 reward, this for her son's discovery, and then takes up the chase herself.
The area's most popular disc jockey, Curley Q . Brown (DON STEELE), picks up on the story, immediately starts making contact with all the participants in the chase and, to bring this quickly unfolding story to his listeners live and direct, jumps into the station's helicopter to survey the ever-growing chase from the skies. Motivated variously by law and order, thrills, religious faith, curiosity and especially the big bucks being promised for the apprehension of Sam and Paula, not to mention Collins Hedge-worth, a wild and wide assortment of humanity joins in the frantic pursuit. A fanatical preacher hijacks a police car, the displaced cop commandeers a school bus full of senior citizens, two young and zany auto mechanics drop their tools to speed off seeking adventure and fortune, the highway patrol crisscrosses the desert highways and the goon squad in the employ of Ned Slinker bungles all its attempts to run the errant lovers off the road.
The entire rag-tag collection of Porsches, Volkswagens, vans, squad cars, buses and super-charged vehicles whips down the highways and byways, Sam and Paula weaving in and out in a spectacular trail of near-misses as the road behind them becomes one giant wreck of twisted metal and fuming drivers!
VHS Features - - Video interview with Ron Howard and Roger Corman - Video interview of Roger Corman by Leonard Maltin - Original theatrical trailers of "Grand Theft Auto" and "Eat My Dust"