Smash-Up On Interstate 5 begins with ominous shots of a crowded California interstate. It’s the 4th of July weekend and old people are returning home, young people are looking for a party, and Sergeant Sam Marcum (Robert Conrad) of the California Highway Patrol is looking for a killer. When one car swerves into the next lane and hits another, it leads to a chain reaction as hundreds of cars, trucks, and one motorcycle crash into each other. While the vehicles crash, we see the people inside of them. There’s Buddy Ebsen! There’s Vera Miles! There’s Sue Lyon (of Lolita fame) on the back of a motorcycle! In a voice-over, Sam tells us that the accident will be classified as being due to “mechanical failure” and that 14 people are going to die as a result. He might be one of them.
Smash-Up On Interstate 5 is a 70s disaster film so, after the pile-up, the movie flashed back 48 hours and we get to know everyone whose lives are going to eventually collide on Interstate 5. Erica (Vera Miles) is recently divorced and trying to get back into the dating scene. Albert (Buddy Ebsen) is trying to bring some joy to his terminally ill wife’s final days. Lee (Scott Jacoby) and Penny (Bonnie Ebsen) are the hippies who are trying to get to Big Sur without getting arrested. Burnsey (Sue Lyon) loves her biker boyfriend. Some of them will survive the pile-up. Some of them will not.
Smash-Up On Interstate 5 is an above average made-for-TV movie. It’s got a notable cast and the movie does a good job of mixing together’s everyone’s subplots. For instance, Burnsey and a group of bikers show up in the background of several scenes and harass Erica at one point long before the crash on the interstate. It’s only a 100-minute film so the film doesn’t go into too much detail about everyone’s past but we learn just enough to make everyone stand out. The crash itself is intense, even when seen today. Made before the days of CGI, this is a film where the stunt crew definitely earned their paycheck.
Tommy Lee Jones plays a patrolman who is also Sam’s brother-in-law. I was surprised when I first saw him but as soon as I saw the strained smile and heard the accent, I knew it was him. Jones’s role is small and probably could have been played by anyone but the mere presence of Tommy Lee Jones definitely makes this film cooler than it would have been otherwise.
One final note: This film was directed by the made-for-TV horror specialist, John Llewellyn Moxey. Be sure to read Gary Loggins’s tribute to this often underrated director.