Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘Track 29’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 08, 1988

Nicholas Roeg's "Track 29" opens with a pale traveler by the roadside deep in the rural South. The stranger, played by Gary Oldman, is an Englishman who says he's "come all the way 'cross the pond in search of my ma-ma," whose loving care he has missed since he was snatched away from her as a newborn. Immediately, though, you notice something wrong with the lad (whose name turns out to be Martin); his eyes are too blue and his gaze too penetrating. He looks wild and you can't look at him without wanting to look away.

Beginning the film with Martin is a wily but perplexing calculation. It springs from a collaboration between the director Nicholas Roeg ("Don't Look Now" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth") and the writer Dennis Potter ("The Singing Detective" and "Pennies From Heaven"). The story's true focus is Linda (Theresa Russell), the apocalyptically bored wife of a kinky doctor named Henry (Christopher Lloyd), whose passion for miniature trains borders on madness. (The film's title derives from a lyric from "Chattanooga Choo-Choo.") Martin arrives in their lives at the moment when Linda's torment over her childlessness and her frustration with her husband have pushed her to the breaking point.

Martin's appearance is, in fact, evidence that she has fractured into a thousand pieces. It takes us a while to catch on, but when it is revealed that Linda had been raped by a carnival roustabout and given birth to a child that was taken away from her, we see that Martin has finally found his long-lost ma-ma. That Linda looks, at most, 10 years older than Martin is at first a problem, but when they visit a restaurant and we see that, from the point of view of the waiters working there, she is conducting her conversation with an empty chair, we understand that Martin is merely a phantom, the manifestation of the backed-up mothering impulses in her head.

When this is revealed, there's nothing really to be done but throw up your hands and give in. Though preposterous, the movie is watchable, if only for the glee Roeg invests in its excesses. One frequently wonders, for example, what to do with the bizarre actress/comedian Sandra Bernhard, but when she slaps on a pair of rubber gloves and begins giving Doctor Henry a spanking, we feel, at last, that she has found her true calling.

The glimpses of Potter's obsessions, and Oldman's cheerfully twisted performance, make staying with the picture worthwhile. A more straightforward director, though, would have given better service to Potter's themes, and it's only when Roeg manages to stifle his restlessness, as he does when the imaginary son plays a moving rendition of "Mother" for his mum, that the film has any legitimacy. And even there -- as everywhere else -- the moment is undermined by the presence of Theresa Russell, who attempts a Southern accent apparently without ever having heard one. Her awfulness isn't devastating, though; it's just another part of the whole garishly baroque spectacle.

"Track 29" contains much suggestive material.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help