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DEFINITIVE STREAMLINE REVIEW FOR 'KING OF THE MOUNTAIN'

Harry Hamlin feeling out an uneasy road in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN Year: 1981 Rates: ***1/2
As the obscure early-eighties action/melodrama KING OF THE MOUNTAIN revs from the second to third act, the central three hot rodders are at a record company party when would-be producer Richard Cox as Roger, wants to go back out on Mulholland Drive and tear up the famous nighttime road...

Joseph Bottoms as Buddy, a gifted yet cursed, naive, idealistic and sometimes corny and downright annoying musician, whose songs are supposedly destined for greatness, turns to Roger and says, with a wry, knowing grin, “We’re at a fancy party and you want to go driving?” Well hell — that’s what the movie promises so why not?
Some of the cars from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
But what driving there is— up, down and around the snaky mountainous curves of L.A.'s notoriously dangerous road ("slicing Los Angeles like a knife") — is filmed with the same meticulous precision that Harry Hamlin's Steve knows from racing those potentially lethal curves "with my eyes closed."

A leather jacket clad underdog anti-hero, liken to hot rod roadster flicks from the 50's, except the music, particularly from Bottoms's ensemble: a groove of 1980's white boy R&B with a hint of the prior decade's yacht rock, trading genuine soul with glossy perfection but still sounding decent enough — catchier than most fictional bands yet still missing the mark.
Some of the cars from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Harry Hamlin, though, is not a musician and only listens to music (at one point blasting a Styx tape in his car as an imposing helicopter makes an aerial arrest)...

He's the road king by night... sporadically a jailbird... and mechanic by day, already a nostalgic hero from the very start — more a legend than someone needing to win races to flesh-out the character — who has all his flesh (and his semi-rested laurels) right out in the open...
Deborah Van Valkenburgh and Harry Hamlin in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Tired of being what we (and his roadside fan-base) expect from the title alone. It feels like walking into a movie thirty minutes in, or watching a more reposeful sequel where the protagonist is vulnerable and reluctant to risk everything, again, eventually waiting for the right amount of prompting to thrust him back into action...

To further mellow his potential edge, but inevitable in any motion picture, he meets a girl in THE WARRIORS siren Deborah Van Valkenburgh, crooning genuinely hot vocals with Harry's struggling musician friends... the aforementioned Roger and Buddy (their real last names are Bottoms and Cox!): two fellas that should be driving more than jamming...
Hot for Teacher hottie Lillian Müller and Seymour Cassel in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
But the lion's share has the endearingly unapologetic losers hanging out just beyond their parked hot rods: one pondering life while the others hope for a record deal with Seymour Cassel's shady record mogul...

The trio, joking jovially like we should know them better, are likeable enough: bouncing from the road to their shared apartment to a rented studio back into the revved-up, headlight burning moonlight drive...
Harry Hamlin & Grizzly Adams star Dan Haggerty in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN w/ Dennis Hopper
And it's Dennis Hopper as a moody, pontificating, burnt-out has-been who gives this MOUNTAIN some needed road rage villainy: His character is also a mechanic who... working for an old racing buddy played by Dan Haggerty and alongside Hamlin... is as bluntly humorous as he is slightly deranged...

Hopper, back in the saddle from his cinematic blackout during the 1970's... and having already gotten his feet wet with similar wacko roles in APOCALYPSE NOW and OUT OF THE BLUE... wears the character, Cal, like an old, weathered yet comfortable shoe...
A quite weathered looking Dennis Hopper as Cal in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
With his signature rambling style, the tattered hippie's given ample chance for spontaneous, improvised rants — one great scene lecturing the passive race spectators: And he becomes our sole hope in bringing the edgy race aspect back up front...

After sitting around the sidelines for fifteen-years, a bottle of booze in one hand and an old reliable stopwatch in the other, he fearfully waits for someone to break his record... 
Harry Hamlin as Steve the title road ruler from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
At one point vowing to take on anybody to reclaim his past glory (ended by a near-fatal crash), leading to several dangerous nighttime races in this high octane fable based on an article titled THUNDER ROAD, which just might have been... before EMI added the music-sideline... all about that long and winding road where, from the surrounding houses at the dead of night, a distant, muffled hum of engines could always be heard...

And so, flaws aside, KING OF THE MOUNTAIN provides a sparse glimpse into that echoing reverberation which, even at that time, and like the title character's desperate need to reign, was very soon to end. But that's what all movies are: The beginning of an inevitable end.
Harry Hamlin in the German Car garage from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Harry Hamlin, Joseph Bottoms and Richard Cox in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Harry Hamlin as Steve in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Steve's ex Iris played by Tara Fellner in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Harry Hamlin in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN with Joseph Bottoms & Richard Cox
Some of the cars from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Some of the cars from KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Dennis Hopper as Cal in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Dennis Hopper as Cal in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Harry Hamlin's Steve lives a life of cars in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Smoking hot Green Ice starlet Tara Fellner in KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
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