Over the Edge (1979)


(director: Jonathan Kaplan; screenwriter: Charles Haas/Tim Hunter; cinematographer: Andrew Davis; editor: Robert Barrere; music: Sol Kaplan; cast: Michael Eric Kramer (Carl Willat), Pamela Ludwig (Cory), Kim Kliner (Abby), Matt Dillon (Richie), Vincent Spano (Mark), Tom Fergus (Claude), Tiger Thompson (Johnny), Harry Northup (Sgt. Doberman), Andy Romano (Fred Willat), Ellen Geer (Sandra Willat), Richard Jamison (Jerry Cole), Julia Pomeroy (Julia); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: George Litto; Orion; 1979)
“Jonathan Kaplan’s engaging exploitation nightmarish generation gap film is effective and honest.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jonathan Kaplan’s engaging exploitation nightmarish generation gap film is effective and honest in getting what the problems are even if it uses questionable sensational methods to accomplish that aim. It’s intelligently written by Charles Haas and Tim Hunter, telling about a group of white middle-class suburban kids who are bored, aimless, sex crazy, drinkers and experimenters with drugs. They live in a new planned community called New Granada, set in the suburbia desert region west of Denver, whose motto is “Tomorrow’s city…today.” It was modeled after the real Foster City planned city. The only spot the town’s junior high school teens have to hang out in is the youth rec center, located in an ugly Quonset hut out in the desert, which closes for the evening. Their parents are more interested in bringing in investors to their sterile place and raising their real estate values and tax base than they are in listening to the gripes of their children. The teachers find most of the parents apathetic and the kids rebellious. Left to their own means, the kids get involved in vandalism, petty theft, and creating public disturbances. One incident elevates the tension between the police and the kids, as two older kids on a freeway overpass fire their pellet gun and hit a police car causing it to swerve. Sergeant Doberman arrests the wrong two 14-year-old kids, Richie White (Matt Dillon, in his film debut) and Carl Willat (Michael Eric Kramer), as they find a pocket knife on Richie (which they falsely call a switchblade). Carl is a child of privilege, his father Fred (Andy Romano) owns the Cadillac dealership and is a leader on the town council, while Richie is someone from the other side of the tracks who has a police record.

Along with Jerry Cole, the president of the town’s real estate development group, Fred Willat meets with rich potential investors from Houston who want to build an industrial park adjacent to the rec center. Since they don’t want to give their investors the wrong impression, Jerry orders the rec center closed for the day. But Julia, the counselor sympathetic to the kids, refuses, and when Sergeant Doberman comes to close the center he finds hashish on Claude and arrests him. Later we find a snitch informed the cop. This arrest causes a mini-riot in front of the center that catches the attention of the Texans, who decide not to invest in a place that has trouble with their youth.

Carl is the good kid involved with the wrong crowd, who becomes angry and confused when his troubled friend Richie is fatally shot by Doberman in a car chase when Richie pointed an unloaded gun at him and the town instead of investigating the shooting holds a meeting in the school to find out how to stop the vandalism and rein the kids in. It angers all the kids at the rec center, and runaway Carl with his new girlfriend Cory (Pamela Ludwig), the only one whom he can talk to, lead the kids on a violent nihilistic rampage against those holding the meeting that gets way out of control and turns out not to be not the kind of protest that Carl had in mind. The conclusion is over-the-edge but the anger of the youth does reflect a national problem, as the teenagers are frustrated by their neglect and their parents failure to communicate with them in a positive way. This seems to be more typical a reaction than atypical. That negative societal attitudes towards the children in crisis is certainly one of the reasons for growing juvenile problems in 1978 as well as in 2006, and filmmaker Kaplan and writers get at the problem as good or better than most teen films.

The soundtrack features the Ramones, Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, songsters I can still relate to after all these years.