If you want to get my interest in a movie quick smart, have the opening titles set to a song by Jerry Reed. You really want to make sure you get my interest in a movie quick smart, give Reed a major role in the movie too, so his name gets second billing in those opening credits while his own song plays. All of that is to say, I knew nothing about High-Ballin’ going in, but it certainly had my undivided attention pretty quick smart.
A “sexy” woman is on the side of the highway by her broken down car. When a truck driver pulls over to help her and maybe gets some action, we see she’s just a decoy. There’s a sinister bloke in her car who proceeds to hijack the truck. Cue the colourful crew of other truckies shooting the shit in a roadside diner. They’ve had enough of these robberies and are starting to talk about taking matters into their own hands.
There’s salt of the earth everyman, Jerry Reed as Duke. And there’s Peter Fonda as Rane. His more progressive, hippy outlook on things make him a bit of an outcast among the more traditional drivers, but you can just tell that he’s a leader waiting to happen. At home with Duke’s loving wife and brood of rosy cheeked moppets, High-Ballin’ makes for damn sure we know that Duke and Rane are the good guys, with everything to lose.
In case we don’t get it straight away, Duke announces that he’s about to make one last run before he quits truck driving to be closer to his family. So you know he’s gonna be just fine. Most of the movie is then an extended chase scene as the bandits try to get to Rane and Duke’s cargo. Cargo which is important enough to move in these dangerous conditions, but expendable enough to use as road bombs once things heat up. Logic is not high on anyone’s agenda in High-Ballin’.
CB movies are such a weird product of their time. It seems that for a brief moment in the 70s and very early 80s, there was nothing cooler than your hero speeding down America’s highways, using corny nick names and cornier slang over the CB radio. Evading cops, evading crooks, but never evading the most obvious plots, movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy and High-Ballin’ represent one of the most niche, inexplicable genres in American cinema.
I liked High-Ballin’¸ but I would never go so far as to say it’s d a good movie. It’s just not. It’s cheap, it’s nasty, it’s predictable. It also just so happens to be fun. But the biggest question that kept popping into my head while watching was, what the hell had happened to Peter Fonda’s career that he had to be in it? Not even a decade earlier, he’d helped redefine and reshape American cinema by making Easy Rider with Dennis Hopper. Now here is, sharing co-lead with Jerry Reed. That’s a big slide down in prestige and critical respect.