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Swann is awesome! (and really, really dim) “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann”

September 11, 2012

Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann was supposed to be an installment of “Best Summer Ever,” however there were some problems,  since A) it was hardly a box-office hit in 1982, and is barely known or remembered today, and B) it came out in December of 1982.  Still, the movie has several qualities that prove instructive. First off, it’s utterly ludicrous, and that’s always fun. Second off—and more important—it’s a great example of how the PG movie rating has evolved over the years. And by “evolved” I mean, “sweet crap, you could get away with a lot of shit in a kid’s movie back then!”

Timerider is about a motorcross rider who travels back in time to the year 1877 and tangles with some cowboys. Seems simple enough, right? And it is. But first, the movie gets off to an ominous start, as the credits proudly announce that this movie was written, directed and scored by Michael Nesmith. Now, this is good, because we can lay the blame for its badness on one guy—always nice when they make it easy—but the bad news is we’re watching the dream project of a Monkee.

As if that was bad enough, we get the credit: “And Fred Ward and Lyle Swann.” You know, the guy playing your main character should really rate more than a “And” credit.

And starring this guy…you get to see his face later, don’t sweat it.

Okay, so deep in the California desert, a private physics lab is preparing for a bold experiment that will send a rhesus monkey (not the film’s director) back in time to 1877 and then bring him back to the present, presumably after it’s had enough time to spread Ebola all over the place.

A couple miles away, there’s a motorcross race gearing up, and our hero Lyle Swann is testing out a prototype dirt bike that, uh, well it ain’t exactly Knight Rider. Mainly it has a massive GPS. Our hero, though, well he is the shit. How do we know this? Because the first, like, ten minutes features him (or his stunt double—his helmet is opaque) tearing ass through the desert, while everyone back at the tournament grounds is like, “Where’s Swann?”  “What’s Swann doing?” “Wow, that’s so Swann.” “What’s Swann up to?” It’s like that joke on The Simpsons where Homer suggests, “When Poochie’s not on screen everybody should be asking, ‘where’s Poochie.’”  Basically, these people love the holy living fuck out of Swann.

“Hey look, it’s SWANN! Let’s watch him some more!”

Well, it all goes sideways when Swann ends up in the area where they’re sending the plague monkey back in time, and what do you know? He ends up there with it. Now, Swann can’t figure out what happened to him, and you should get used to that since he pretty much never does.

Back in the old West things aren’t so good, as we come across a bunch of outlaws led by Peter Coyote (who’s always a welcome presence, unless he’s dressed like a pig and being spanked by Emmanuelle Seignor) and Richard Masur (ditto…sans the pig mask thing). They’ve made off with a valuable stash of…um…pink silk. Now, you may be tempted to think that these guys are kind of wimpy outlaws, but no, they’re actually mainline psychopaths, as Coyote demonstrates by blowing one of them away. PG-rated movie, folks.

Predictably enough, Swann runs into them, and they mostly freak out, thinking he’s either a ghost or the devil or a devil ghost. Coyote, though, understands that the motorcycle is actually a machine, and sees the amazing potential of it. “If General Lee had had that machine, we would have won the war,” he says, awed. Because, yeah, a dirt bike would have single-handedly turned the tide of a Civil War.

Yeah, let the guy with the pelt on his head have a gun. That’s a good idea.

Swann hightails it, but along the way stops off at a swimming hole, where a very comely Claire Cygne (Belinda Bauer) is skinny-dipping (PG movie). Before they can properly meet cute, the outlaws catch up to them, so Swann takes off again. This time he ends up in a broken-down town where he meets up with the village priest  (Ed Lauter), who sells holy water to the villagers. Kind a dick move if you ask me. Naturally, everyone freaks, but then Claire shows up and convinces everybody to stand down.

The hope of running across this is pretty much why the West was settled.

Just then, though, the outlaws ride in. Claire hides Swann and runs the outlaws off by shooting one of them in the face (PG movie). So, this gives Claire and Swann a little alone time, which he uses to sputter, “What’s going on? Who are you people? Where am I?” while Claire just eye-bones him. Seriously. She looks like a housewife at a screening of Magic Mike.

So, it should come as no surprise when she rapes him at gunpoint. No, seriously. She demands he strip, then takes her own clothes off. Next scene, they’re canoodling in bed. You know, after the coerced sex. P fucking G movie.

“Squeal like a pig? Uh, okay. Yeah sure.”

So, then some US Marshals swing by on the trail of the Outlaws, and they’re pretty man because Coyote killed one of their sons. This turns out to be handy since the outlaws return, steal the bike and kidnap Claire.

The Outlaws return to their Outlaw Camp, where Coyote tries to get the bike to work, while the noseless dude threatens to rape and disfigure Claire (PG movie). Later that night, Swann and the Marshals assault the camp. Well, first the Marshal whose kid was killed calls out Coyote for a showdown, only Coyote sneaks up behind him and blows him in half with a double-barreled shotgun (PG movie). The the rest ride in, guns blazing.

Yeah, just about everyone gets killed except Swann, Claire and the priest (PG movie). They head for the hills with the outlaws in hot pursuit, eventually ended up on the edge of a cliff. Just when everything looks lost, a helicopter blasts over the ridge. Seems the scientists mounted a search and rescue mission. Well, it looks okay, until Coyote shoots the pilot, sending the chopper into a spin.  Before the copilot can gain control, the chopper knocks the bike over the cliff, smashing it into uselessness. And then the tail rotor dices Coyote, leaving only his shredded, bloodied boots. PG freaking movie.

“Ha! I was in E.T. I don’t care about this movie.”

So, Swann gets aboard, but they won’t take Claire. As the helicopter rises, Swann realizes Claire is his great, great grandmother and then figures out what happened to him. Freeze frame, and the end.

So, what did we learn from Timerider? Aside from the fact that Lyle Swann is awesome (but not awesome enough to figure out he traveled back in time)? Well, it’s that in 1982 you could show numerous shootings, stabbings, mutilations, forced sex, threatened rape, and bodies being Cuisinarted in a PG movie, as long as it has cowboys. And was directed by a Monkee.

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