After an illegal car race in the street goes wrong and a yellow car smashes off the road in a scene akin to something from MAD MAX, the excited group of onlookers scarper away before the cops arrive.

Later, some members of this group reconvene at a local club. Meanwhile, Mike (Terry Serio) returns to work in a factory while dreaming of becoming a successful racer and "getting the girl".

The girl in question is Julie (Deborah Conway), a pretty model who Mike visits at the beach later that day to watch during a photo shoot. When the shoot ends, Mike picks up her up in his car and takes her out for the afternoon. They park up near the beach and begin to get fresh.

Unfortunately, Julie was recently dating the unhinged Fox (Richard Moir). Their date therefore goes awry when Fox's gang show up, damaging Mike's wheels and snatching Julie from him.

Mike manages to catch the gang up, but is overpowered by Fox's boys. Fox tells Mike that if he wants Julie, he's going to have race him for her. The problem with this is that Fox is renowned as being the best street car racer around.

With only two days to get his car up to the job, Mike enlists the help of quick-talking mechanic pal Tony (Vangelis Mourikis). They manage to get the car mobile, but Mike still loses the race.

Fox is determined to race Mike again, only now he's given one week to prepare - or cough up a cancellation fee of two hundred dollars. Suffering a bad case of pride, Mike determines to race again rather than hand his dosh, and girl, over to Fox.

In-between shagging the delightful Julie, Mike prepares himself for the next race with Tony on hand to tweak the pistons and keep a twitchy thumb over the stopwatch.

But it soon dawns on Mike and Tony that if they are ever going to win a race against Fox, they need to take more drastic measures. However, Tony quite rightly questions how they're going to raise the required couple of thousand dollars in the space of one week.

Their answer is to embark on a road trip with Julie in tow, searching for new wheels and the means to buy them, in a bid to beat Fox once and for all.

Unfortunately they run into problems along the way. For instance, falling out with a family of outback farmers proves to a bad idea - as the luckless teenagers learn when their car ends up severely burned and run off the road into a lake. Oops.

Driving their barely roadworthy wreck back through the sweltering outback, the trio are understandably deflated. It doesn't help matters when they return home and drunk local Rebel (Max Cullen) takes one look at the car and wryly states "Sounds like she's got a wobble in the bottom end". No shit, Sherlock.

But Mike is not about to give up on the possibility of beating Fox at his own game, and sees a fresh opportunity to outrace him when Rebel shows him a very special vehicle he's been keeping in his garage. It turns out Rebel is something of a mechanical wizard, and he offers to help "fix" Mike's car to a standard it's never enjoyed before ...

A huge cult hit in its native Australia (it was voted 2nd best film of all time in their Street Machines magazine - losing out only to MAD MAX 2), RUNNING ON EMPTY has an agreeable energy and appeal about it.

Performances are chirpy even when situations call for less happy reactions, and the visual look of the film is a joy to behold. The open Australian landscapes are used to fine effect, complemented well by David Gribble's gorgeous cinematography.

The film does resemble the first MAD MAX film at times, thanks to these stunning countryside visuals and the obvious fascination with fast cars burning rubber here, there and everywhere. Also, the dated early 80s look of the characters (this was first released in 1982), along with the 80s synth score, adds to the welcome cult feel evident throughout.

Although the script feels rather haphazard, the film does come together during it's latter half. It's still nonsense on a bigger level, but enormously fun nonsense nevertheless.

Moments of amiable humour are peppered throughout the film, and the plot is populated by an intriguing assortment of quirky characters. The end product is a cinematically beautiful slice of light entertainment.

But with minimal characterisation and not a great deal of logic present in Barry Tomblin's screenplay, the film's main reason for being is to celebrate the beauty of the automobile.

Stunts are limited as are smash-ups (although stick around for an impressive latter-half burnout), due to the film's low budget, but those with an appreciation for our four-wheeled friends are still going to savour the many sun-kissed close-ups of classic models roaring across the Australian tarmac.

I'm not knowledgeable about cars myself, but it may mean something to someone out there when I say the film pays homage to the likes of a '57 Chevy, the Holden Monaro, Ford Falcon GTHO, a Dodge Charger and more. If I've misquoted any of those vehicles, I do apologise - I'm now discussing things beyond my realms of knowledge ...

Suffice it to say, car lovers will enjoy this film from beginning to end - the cars really are the stars. Oh, the cars and the two bungling cops who bizarrely look like fetishists in their leather get-up (the sunglassed female cop is a dead ringer for Annette Haven in the dream sequences of Ed De Priest's SKINTIGHT ...!).

RUNNING ON EMPTY has been given a spiffing anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer on Britfilms' disc. Considering we're looking at a moderately budgeted Aussie film from 1982, it scrubs up exceptionally well on DVD. Colours are bold yet accurate, while detail is sharp and grain is non-existent. It's a wonderful transfer, making the film look as though it was made yesterday (only the terrible fashions betray it's age).

English mono audio is provided and offers a solid playback, exhibiting a fair balance of dialogue and background noise. There are no instances of hiss or drop-out to report.

The animated main menu page on the disc is very bright and colourful indeed - it almost leaps off the screen at you. From there, you have access to an animated scene-selection menu possessing 12 chapters.

The only extras on the disc are trailers for DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE, THE SURVIVOR, STORM BOY and MALCOLM.

An enjoyable low-budget adventure with light moments in-between the photogenic car racing scenes, RUNNING ON EMPTY was a pleasant surprise to me as a first-time viewer. I can fully understand it's cult following, and it's great to see the film emerge on UK DVD courtesy of the increasingly interesting Britfilms.

Good cheesy trash, and positively the only film where the hero's nickname is "Piss Off" (it's Polish, apparently ...).

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Britfilms TV
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review