In a southwestern metropolis, a mysterious criminal is stealing cars and outrunning the police. When the insurance company realizes that the cops are never going to be able to do their job, they decide to bring in an outside hire to solve the crimes. They turn to a paisley-shirt wearing private investigator named Pete Novick (played by Joe Don Baker). Novick’s a hard-drinking, hard-living P.I. who is going to solve the case no matter what. Authority figures like police Captain Hogan (Morgan Woodward) hate him. Women like cop Niffty Nolan (Tyne Daly) and psychic New Blossom (Lana Wood) want to have him. Men like mechanic Billy (Richard Jaeckel) want to hang out with him. You get the idea. It’s a Joe Don Baker movie.
Speedtrap is basically one car chase after another, the majority of which are excitingly filmed and continue until almost every car involved has been destroyed. Though the movie was directed by Earl Bellamy, it has the feel of a Hal Needham film as it keeps the characterization to a minimum and instead focuses on vehicular mayhem. Speaking of Hal Needham, it’s also easy to imagine Burt Reynolds, in his B-movie days, playing the role of Pete Novick but not even he would have been as perfect for the role or the movie as Joe Don Baker. Baker shambles through the movie, all the while keeping the same passive-aggressive grin on his face. There’s nothing smooth about Joe Don Baker, which is why he was fun to watch in a movie like this. Whether he’s having a one-night stand with a psychic (only in order to help for “totally relax” so that she can have her visions) or going out of his way to annoy almost every single person that he meets, he’s undeniably Joe Don Baker. During one chase scene, an annoyed Novick snaps, “Beep beep my ass!” Only Joe Don Baker could have pulled that off.
Eventually, the thief steals the wrong car. This one has a suitcase in back that’s full of the mob’s money. This gives Robert Loggia a chance to ham it up as a mafia don who wants Novick to capture the thief and then turn him over to the syndicate. Novick, however, has even less respect for the mob than he does for the police. The mafia subplot is a distraction but Timothy Carey plays Loggia’s main henchman and brings with him a few moments of genuine menace to the film.
Speedtrap has never gotten a DVD or Blu-ray release but it’s an entertaining B-movie and it deserves one. How about it, Shout Factory? A million Joe Don Baker fans are looking to you.