Smokey and the Hotwire Gang (1979) – By Albert Walker

Smokey and the Hotwire Gang was directed by Tony Cardoza, the actor-producer who also brought us Hellcats and Bigfoot. But Tony will always be known for supporting the blight on cinema history that was director Coleman Francis. Cardoza produced and appeared in all three of Francis’ films: Skydivers, The Beast of Yucca Flats, and what many consider to be the worst movie ever made, Red Zone Cuba. Coming nearly two decades later, Smokey and the Hotwire Gang shows that when it came time to direct movies of his own, Tony learned everything he knew from his old friend Coleman. Which is just as unfortunate for him as it is for everyone watching this movie.

As the title would suggest, this is a Z-grade rip-off of Smokey and the Bandit, a supposedly farcical comedy about truckers and cruisers kicking up clouds of dirt on backwater roads as they evade the local Good Ol’ Boy Sheriff™, all the while giving each other Big Ten-Fours on their CB radios. Ah yes. The CB radio. Not only one of the lamest fads of the 1970s, but one that inspired equally lame movies like Convoy and Handle with Care (the latter of which probably being Cardoza’s main inspiration in making this film).

Smokey and the Hotwire Gang wants to be an intertwining ensemble comedy, a story with multiple plotlines that intersect and impact each other in (supposedly) humorous ways. But frankly, I’m just guessing on that one, because what we get instead is a plot that’s impossible to figure out solely from watching the movie. I almost had to piece things together based on secondary evidence, sort of like how physicists detect the presence of black holes.

The movie opens on two shaggy 70’s dudes driving around in their Porsche convertible and delivering bald-faced exposition about how CBs help you avoid speeding tickets. Despite this assertion, a sheriff (or as they were called in the parlance of the day, “Smokey”) is soon on their tail. The Porsche speeds off and the sheriff exclaims he hasn’t seen anything take off so fast “since that kid put acid on a cat’s ass!” Why would a kid put acid on a cat’s ass? And why exactly was the sheriff there to observe it? The world can only wonder.

In a typically abrupt transition, we break away in the middle of this car chase to visit several other characters who we’ll unfortunately be spending a lot of time with. First up is a hitchhiker who gets picked up by a custom van, which is driven by a flamboyant car salesman with the CB handle of Billy the Kid. We also visit with this movie’s comic relief, two poor white trash guys from the Ozarks who ride around in a beat-up convertible. As they yammer on their CB, we see they’ve replaced the passenger seat in the car with a toilet [!]. No, really, I swear. Could I even make something like that up? One white trash guy sits on the toilet as the car cruises along, and when they put the top up, the guy actually has to hunker down on the john. He tells the other white trash guy, “Josh, I wish you had stoled a better car when you stoled one!” We feel your pain, white trash dude.

That’s all the hilarity we get from them for now, because it’s back to the shaggy dudes in the Porsche. They lose the cop, but soon find themselves harassed by a couple of hoods who, for reasons unknown, force the shaggy dudes off the road.

Having worn themselves out with all that mischief, the two hoods head to a disco club for the sole purpose of killing time and showcasing this movie’s soundtrack, as we watch for a few minutes as several polyester-clad partiers dance to the horrible title song. The two guys eventually exit the club, revealing that it’s called “Filthy McNasty’s”, which should not be confused with Shasta McNasty, a far superior comedic work.

The two guys head to a ritzy party where a brunette woman in a low cut cocktail dress saunters around with a long cigarette holder in her hand. This is Eleanor Brookhurst (played by Carla Ziegfeld, nearly a brunette clone of pop singer Vitamin C), who supposedly goes by the nickname “Hotwire” (hence, the title. Of course, she never actually refers to herself as “Hotwire” and no one ever calls her that to her face).

As it turns out, Hotwire runs various illegal operations in the city, among them prostitution, peddling dope, and fencing stolen cars. Hotwire even has a midget butler, so you know she’s up to no good. Hotwire calls up her goons, and through incredibly confusing dialogue, she arranges for them to rob an armored car.

By the way, Hotwire’s goons in this movie all look and talk like mobsters, but there’s no indication that Hotwire is even in the Mafia. (And in an unexpected installment of Spot the Embarrassed Actor, one of her goons is a youthful Tony Sirico, who many years later would play Walnuts on The Sopranos. In fact, I think I may have just outed the poor guy, because this movie is absent from most of his Internet filmographies, and understandably so.)

While she’s on the phone, Hotwire’s current beau enters, and it’s a puffy faced Tony Cardoza himself. All I can say is the years since he played Fidel Castro in Red Zone Cuba were not kind. The two then have this dazzling exchange:

“I was wondering when you’d get around to finding me, Wesley.”
“It didn’t take me long to follow that scent of yours.”
“You like this perfume?”
“I like what it’s on.”

Cut to an RV, which we quickly learn is a roving whorehouse [!]. Two truckers bid farewell to their ladies for the hour, overjoyed that they only had to spend $75 each. One complains about Hotwire’s girls charging them $150, and on top of that, “you walk away feeling like you was still strangers!” Then they both tuck pistols into their waistbands [?] and drive off.

Once they’re gone, the ladies of the road decide to find more customers. And of course, they do this by getting 0n the CB radio [!!] and unabashedly announcing their services to all listeners. When a cop car passes them, they even wave and declare, “And that goes for all you Smokies out there, too!”

At a roadside diner, the truckers with guns meet up with the greasy mob types, including Walnuts. Also having a meal here are the poor white trash guys from the Ozarks. Wow, all the various plot threads in this movie are coming together just like War and Peace!

The white trash guys sit at a table, and seeing the dishes that the trucker before them left behind, one of the guys starts to eat the scraps [!!] while the other tries to pocket the tip. Because, as everyone knows, people from the Ozarks are all slope-browed, inbred, Cro-Magnon types. In a movie like this, no stereotype is left unturned.

The mob guys leave, and for some reason, the white trash guys see this as an opportunity and they decide to follow. We soon learn the mob guys have to use a van in order to carry out the armored car robbery, so they simply drive around until they find one to steal [!]. Look, if you’re going to go through all the trouble of holding up an armored car, the least you can do is buy your own damn van.

Regardless, the van they steal just happens to be the custom van driven by our old friend Billy the Kid (see how it all comes together?). Now stranded in the middle of the night wearing only his boxers (don’t ask), Billy is soon picked up by the roving whorehouse. And how does Billy get help finding his car? Why, by getting on the CB radio, of course! You didn’t think he’d actually call the cops, did you?

As various drivers (including the shaggy 70’s dudes in the Porsche) join in on the hunt for Billy’s custom van, the white trash guys remain in hot pursuit of the mobsters, to allegedly hilarious results. There are other confounding subplots involving a bumbling deputy (Stanley Livingston, Chip from My Three Sons proving what they say about child actors) and a guy calling himself “Texas Levy, the Kosher Cowboy”. Again, could I make this stuff up?

The script was written by T. Gary Cardoza, and even if I hadn’t known his name, I still would have been able to figure out that Tony just got some relative of his to write the script on the cheap. Consider this exchange between one of the mob guys and the white trash guys:

“I’m gonna get your tuchus for this, baby!”

“Are you one of them Hollywood boys?”

Or when the cops bust Hotwire and a yacht full of bimbos, a deputy yells, “Do you have any concealed weapons?” A girl turns around, shoves her bikini-clad boobs into the camera and says, “What kind of weapons did you have in mind?”

This was definitely the wrong kind of movie for Tony Cardoza to take on for his directorial debut, because it takes a certain kind of filmmaker to juggle five or six plot threads and still maintain coherence. Cardoza, obviously, is not that kind of filmmaker. Perhaps he should have started with a movie that had, say, one or two characters and worked his way up from there.

As befitting a director who’s part of the Coleman Francis legacy, all sorts of sins are on exhibit here. Everything from the Doris Wishman-esque editing choices, to weird abrupt zoom-ins, to frequent shots focusing on the one person who isn’t talking, to astoundingly jarring insert shots where the lighting and sound don’t come close to matching any of the shots around it. But I guess when the camera’s zooming in on a girl’s ass, who’s supposed to notice, right?

Of course, the most unforgivable sin comes when a complete ad for Dad’s Root Beer plays right in the middle of the movie [!!!]. Cardoza feebly superimposes a “television set” frame around the ad, and right after it, we cut to two people in an RV watching TV. Were we really supposed to believe the root beer ad was actually related to this scene somehow? What in the world was Cardoza thinking?

If you can tolerate bargain basement acting, or people off camera sounding like their voices are coming out of a radio, or being able to clearly see the shadow of the camera, then this is the movie for you. Also, if you have a party that you want to clear out quickly, just put this movie on. Your friends will be running out of your house faster than a cat with acid on its ass. Roger, good buddy, over and out.