Legal Download: Road trips on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape of online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, life is a highway, and we’re going to ride it all night long — or for five movies, whichever comes first, as we list some great cinematic road trips available instantly.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Road Trip Movies

Get your motor running if you want but there’s no need to head out on the highway: These road trip movies are all available in the privacy of your own home. On the one hand, I guess it’s a little strange to celebrate movies about the freedom of the great outdoors in a column about films you can watch without ever leaving your bedroom. On the other hand, what’s a better escape than one you can enjoy in your pajamas? With any of these five films, you can take the world in a love embrace without ever putting your pants on. Now that’s freedom.

On iTunes
KLOWN (2010)
Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard
$6.99 to rent in SD or HD

True, the pair of bumbling, sex-obsessed buddies who embark on a “Tour de Pussy” don’t do much actual traveling by road; canoe is their preferred mode of transportation. But this film, spun from a hugely popular television show that is basically the Danish equivalent of Curb Your Enthusiasm, bears all the hallmarks of a great buddy road-trip comedy: wacky misadventures, a few life lessons and lots of hilariously uncomfortable sleeping arrangements (our heroes, Frank and Casper, end up sharing a bed with a woman who puts them up for the night after their canoe capsizes, which is weird enough before Casper and the woman start having sex next to Frank). Frank and Casper take their little canoe trip to get away from their respective girlfriends, but after Frank discovers he’s about to become a father — and his girlfriend is so convinced he’ll make a bad one that she actually considers getting an abortion — he decides to kidnap his nephew Bo and bring him along in a very poorly considered plan to prove he has what it takes to be a good dad. The format is pure formula, but the actors are fantastic and the material is way more outrageous than any American film would dare to be. This movie is so funny it should be prescribed in hospitals to the fatally ill.

On Crackle
Directed by Dennis Hopper

The definitive road movie. Peter Fonda and director Dennis Hopper play Wyatt and Billy, drug smugglers who are bringing a shipment of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico via their motorcycles. The film captures both the freedom of the open road and also the terror, as Wyatt and Billy enjoy many idyllic rides through the American Southwest before a final, violent one. A surprise hit in 1969, and a key text in the New Hollywood period, EASY RIDER gave American popular culture two lasting gifts: the concept of using contemporary rock and roll music as a soundtrack (supposedly invented by editor Donn Cambern in a desperation attempt to liven up the lengthy driving scenes) and Jack Nicholson, who broke out of Roger Corman’s exploitation stable with his charismatic performance as George, the doomed lawyer Wyatt and Billy befriend during their travels.

On Netflix
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Free for streaming plan members

The open road always holds the promise of a new life in movies. Sometimes, though, it’s also a convenient escape route. Moze Pray (Ryan O’Neal) travels the Depression-era Midwest, selling recently widowed women Bibles he claims their late husbands ordered — but never paid for — just before their deaths. He agrees to drive a young orphan named Addie (Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter) to her relatives in Missouri, mostly so he can use her as a prop in a blackmail scheme. Addie, though, is no wallflower, and she demands a cut of Moze’s profits and, soon, a piece of his action. As they travel to Missouri, Addie becomes Moze’s collaborator and his conscience, and their experiences form the spine of this beautifully photographed road movie about family, friendship and fleecing rubes out of their savings.

Directed by Hal Walker
Free for streaming plan members

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s popular ROAD TO… series, which spanned seven films and two decades, created the formula for the buddy road trip comedy: low-stakes misadventures in exotic locales with exotic women (including constant costar Dorothy Lamour) and a nonstop barrage of fourth wall breaking one-liners. ROAD TO MOROCCO is often cited as the “best” ROAD TO… movie, with the most memorable theme song, but ROAD TO BALI is the only one that’s easy to find on streaming. It opens with Crosby and Hope as vaudeville performers in Australia who run out on a gig to avoid the women they’ve both proposed to marry. Desperate for work, they accept jobs as deep sea divers and find their way to Bali, where they both fall for Lamour’s Princess Lala. Music and musings ensue (“Do you always fight over girls?” “Well, what else can we fight over? We’ve never had any money”). The ROAD TO… movies aren’t exactly challenging, but they do evoke the pleasures of travel with a best buddy; even if things go wrong, you always have each other (and Dorothy Lamour).

On YouTube
Directed by John Landis
$2.99 to rent

Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) are on a mission from God. The orphanage where they grew up is going to be closed unless they can raise $5,000 in back taxes. To do that, they’ll need to reunite the legendary Blues Brothers Band and stay a couple of steps ahead of the Illinois State Police, who are chasing them for driving with a suspended license. In a sense, THE BLUES BROTHERS is like a more amped-up version of the Hope and Crosby formula; there are great musical numbers (including performances by James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway), sly comedy and light-hearted chase scenes. The highlight is the final drive to Chicago, which involves the Blues Brothers on the run from dozens of police cars and hundreds of cops through the streets of the Windy City. Come to think of it, ROAD TO CHICAGO would have made a good alternate title.

Photo credit: Drafthouse Films