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The plot is about a guile young terrorist who is able to blackmail a series of companies by placing home-made radio controlled bombs within the central attraction of amusement parks; roller coasters. The young man played by Timothy Bottoms gives a hard time to the cops after they give him UV marked money. He then wants revenge and places a bomb in a roller coaster at the most important amusement park event of the year. Written by
When Young Man places the bomb in the Revolution car, he is sitting in the left seat. Yet when the next ride occurs, the bomb is under the boy who is sitting in the right seat. See more »
[speaking to each other over walkie-talkies]
First, Harry, I think I should tell you about the bomb. Would you like to know where it is?
You're holding it.
See more »
A mysterious young man (Bottoms) derails a Roller-coaster with a bomb, killing or injuring passengers, then attacks more amusement parks across the US in order to extort $1m from the companies running them. It is not immediately obvious that these attacks were deliberate, as opposed to being accidents (e.g. through metal fatigue), so the Amusement Park owners can keep what is happening quiet. It also makes it easier for the extortionist as he has public hysteria to threaten the owners with if they don't pay him off.
Harry Calder (Segal) works for Standards and Safety. He had inspected the derailed Roller-coaster, realises other amusement parks have suffered similar problems and finds out about the plot. Calder gets involved more deeply than he envisaged, as he becomes a reluctant 'bag man' for the $1m, whilst the FBI try to catch the mystery man, just as the US heads towards 4th July and a wealth of potential targets.
This movie is a decent suspense thriller and I have seen it several times. I have never regarded it as part of the 'disaster' movie genre and feel such a description is both lazy and inappropriate. Whilst the Roller-coaster crash scenes were fairly horrible for the time, they seem pale today. The horror is in the mind, and there are only a couple of such scenes in the movie. It is not therefore a bloody horror flick, either.
I don't know if this misconception comes from bad marketing, suggesting that this is a disaster movie, or if there were suggested scenes of gore and blood for the horror fans, in order to con people into the cinema, or if this is down to the critics of the time being lazy and perhaps even reviewing a movie they didn't see. I am a little too young to have seen or read anything at the time.
This is a suspense thriller, even though there is no suspense about 'whodunit', but the movie's style is familiar and it is no surprise to see 'Columbo' creators Levinson and Link in the credits.
The strength of this movie is the cynical, maverick, but quick-witted Calder character that is played so well by Segal. He also has the often-amusing story thread to play with of trying to quit smoking (you wonder if 'Airplane' got the "picked a hell-of-a-day to quit smoking" from Roller-coaster). Calder, we also find, is divorced from his wife, amicably, and has a daughter called Tracy (Helen Hunt, in a child role that hints of the actress to come), and he has a lover, Fran (Strasberg).
Widmark gives FBI Agent Hoyt authority and a little added depth as the film progresses and he spars nicely, if not quite equally, with Segal's Calder. Henry Fonda, in his 70s, essentially has a cameo as Calder's boss, and Strasberg is underused as Calder's girlfriend, in a role that you suspect may have had a little more to it in the script than there was in the movie's final cut. I smell a plot twist that was cut for some reason, perhaps time.
Bottoms is suitably chilling as the amoral, perhaps sociopathic extortionist, because he is young, good-looking, quiet, polite, intelligent, clean-cut, and, as he corrects Calder about his "psychological profile", this is for him a business transaction; he is only interested in the money.
Some may feel that this character is a bit thin, and this may (again) be down to a cut from the original script, but he might simply have been written that way. You don't really need to know more than you ever find out about this character, but because he is a cool, calm sort of a madman, as opposed to the more traditional 'raving lunatic', you may be left wanting at the lack of an obvious answer or explanation for his actions.
There are hints, however. As well as the sociopathic traits, he is an explosives expert, electronics expert, about 30 and, in an early scene, a decent marksman. In mid-1970s USA, what does that suggest? Perhaps the guy running the amusement park duck shoot has him correctly pegged; perhaps not. The Bottoms character simply smiles and walks away, staying mysterious.
There are also bit parts for Harry Guardino, Craig Wasson and Steve Guttenberg, and it features real life band, Sparks.
I recommend this movie. It is a suspense movie that appeals to the brain rather than a horror or disaster movie that appeals more to the senses. It has become a bit dated, as, for example, a $1m extortion fee seems small these days, and Roller-coaster rides were really at their height then, so the enthusiasm for the rides by adults indicates a bygone era, and a 70s movie in setting and style is too distinctive to be anything else, but that now becomes part of its latter-day charm.
Roller-coaster is also a duel of wits, with Segal perfectly cast, and Bottoms, as I say, suitably chilling. With both characters being intelligent and quick-witted, able to plan and to improvise, this adds to the plot, the tension and therefore the overall enjoyment.
You might also recall and bear in mind that this movie was made at the time of "Son of Sam", "The Hillside Stranglers" and Ted Bundy.
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