Judd (Cliff Robertson) is an aging stunt driver who has been reduced to doing minor car shows in New Zealand. He’s having trouble paying the bills and his young mechanic, Casey (Leif Garrett, looking like he’s a few days away from checking into rehab), is on him to do something — anything — to bring in some extra cash. The opportunity presents itself when the duo are hired by an enigmatic woman named Christine (Lisa Harrow) to drive across New Zealand with a mysterious package hidden away in their trunk. Christine will be accompanying them on their trip. Sounds simple, right?
The only problem is that Christine is a research scientist who has developed a deadly new virus that she doesn’t want to get into the wrong hands. She fears that the military might want to use it as bioweapon. It turns out that she’s right and no sooner has Judd tapped the accelerator than they’re being chased across New Zealand by different factions, all who want the weapon for themselves.
Usually I love car chase scenes but Shaker Run didn’t really do much for me. Some of the stunts are impressive but there’s also a lot of slow spots, especially at the start of the movie. As I watched the chase scenes, I wondered why, if Christine is trying to sneak the virus out of the country, she would be stupid enough to hire someone who drives an incredibly conspicuous pink race car. It’s not as if it’s going to be difficult for anyone to spot them on the road. As well, one of the biggest chase scenes takes place during the dark of night, making it next to impossible to discern what’s actually going on. The film also features Leif Garrett, giving a performance that’s obnoxious even for him. What’s bad is that Garrett’s character probably could have been removed from the film without it making much difference. If you’re going to put Leif Garrett in your movie, you better have a good reason.
One thing that the movie does have in its favor is Cliff Robertson in the lead role. Robertson was a good actor whose career as a leading man was pretty much topedoed in 1977 when he discovered that David Begelman, who was the head of Columbia Studios, was using Robertson’s name and forging his signature to embezzle money from the studio. Though the studios pressured Robertson to keep quiet, he went to the police and later spoke publicly about the incident. Though Begelman was the one who had committed the crime, Robertson was the one who was subsequently blacklisted. While Begelman paid a fine, did some community service, and remained a member of the Hollywood community, Robertson was blacklisted for five years. When he finally did start appearing in movies again, it was almost always in supporting roles. Shaker Run gave Robertson a rare leading role and, even if the movie isn’t good, Robertson is still good in it.
Unfortunately, even after people finally started to acknowledge that Cliff Robertson was mistreated, it still didn’t do much for his career and he continued to be cast in mostly forgettable movies. Fortunately, before he died in 2011, he did get offered one iconic role and, as a result, a whole new generation of filmgoers got to know him as Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. If anyone could make you believe that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” it was Cliff Robertson.