So . . . did you you know Easy Rider was followed forty years later by an unofficial sequel? It’s okay. No one does. . . .
The existential subtext and counterculture viewpoints (somewhat) of the original are lost . . . somewhere on a dusty, Baja road in this “sequel” (also working as a prequel) that explores the family history of Peter Fonda’s character Wyatt “Captain America” Williams through the eyes of his older brother, Morgan: a pot-distributing, Vietnam war deserter and custom jewelry-designer (specializing in Maltese crosses; not for the reasons you think, the eventual reveal is a clever trick-of-the-script) living in luxurious solitude on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
The drama and struggles center around Morgan’s cycle-lovin’ family friend, West Coast (Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man, Psycho III), Williams sister Shane (Sheree J. Wilson of TV’s Dallas and as Alex Cahill on Walker, Texas Ranger; she also produces), and her wealthy-hubby (Michael Nouri of Flashdance) as it flashes to and fro from the 1940s to the present, concerned with Wyatt’s brother, Morgan (Phil Pitzer) visiting his dying, disapproving father. So, along with West as his “Billy,” Morgan mounts Wyatt’s Captain American chopper, which he recovered back in ’69 and restored, slaps on his brother’s old leathers, and takes a “ride back” to bury those family demons.
Of course, when it comes to making a sequel, the smart bet is to file legal actions against Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the producers of the original through their Raybert Productions (the force behind The Monkees TV series), to block them from reclaiming their expired film rights. And don’t bring back any of the original’s cast or crew. And cavet those emptor for the ol’ home video bait n’ switch: courtesy of the flashing-back-and-forth, Fahey, Wilson, and Nouri are the marquee-stars, but only here as supporting characters. This show belongs to Phil Pitzer and Chris Engen (as the young, troubled third-brother Virgil; who despite his bigger role, is bumped off the marquee).
So goes this vanity-vision by producer and screenwriter Phil Pitzer, a former lawyer who, with a desire to enter the film industry with a bang, manipulated legal loopholes to get sequel rights. His co-writer and director, Dustin Rikert, fared better: his names pops up as a producer and director on a slew of telefilms broadcast on the Hallmark, Lifetime, and Syfy channels. Their Easy Rider part deux was initially completed in 2009 and appears in filmpedias with that release date; however, by the time it went through the festival circuits and film markets for distribution, it was formally released in 2012.
So, is Easy Rider: The Ride Back the most-unwanted-not-a-sequel since the days of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which I really like) or House II: The Second Story (which I didn’t) or House III: The Horror Show (which I did, because well, it’s a friggin’ Lance Henriksen and Brion James movie)? And is stuffy ol’ Leonard Maltin—who hates everything the B&S About Movies crew likes—justified in calling the Pitzer’s effort “a staggeringly bad, cash-in bomb,” solely based on Pitzer’s clandestine legal maneuvers?
Eh, well . . . to Pitzer’s credit: He does, as you can see, resemble Fonda, so it lends to the credibility that he’s Wyatt’s brother, as well as “being” Wyatt in flashbacks that lend to the film-to-film continuity. All of the bikes (especially Wyatt’s chopper reproduction) and time-period designs (props, costumes, cars, etc.) are correct, the Korean war sequences are well-shot, and the cinematography by Brian Lataille (videos for Incubus and Linkin Park), while not up to the László Kovács-standard in the original, is pretty solid. And yes, as with any indie, flick: there’s a few strained thepsin’ moments. So, while it’s not exactly Easy Rider, Pitzer’s effort is not a Tommy Wiseau (or Neal Breen) biker joint as some threaders and reviews claim. No, it’s definitely not “The Room on wheels” as some have said.
While the flashbacks and bike-riding interludes of Morgan’s and West Coast’s contemplations (most in voice overs as majestic “post-card moments” unfold) about life, e.g., homelessness and hunger, ecology, the meaning of patriotism and true freedom, make the film seem a bit longer than its 90-minute running time, Pitzer nonetheless crafted well-rounded characters for his actors to sink their thespin’ teeth into. He also developed a compelling “history” for an initially ambiguous, metaphorical-drifting character. So kudos to Pitzer for giving a structured “focus” to a film that was admittedly an “out of focus,” scriptless-improv in the first place (that Fonda and Hopper openly admitted in interviews).
And besides: I always enjoy seeing senior actors (e.g., the recently-released Nana’s Secret Recipe) given meaty roles and, to that end: Newell Alexander (who’s career goes back to the ’70s TV series Barnaby Jones and Battlestar Galactica ’79, The Kentucky Fried Movie; he also appeared in Walker, Texas Ranger with Sheree) and Ron Howard’s pop, Rance (The Andy Griffith Show, Grand Theft Auto, and Cotton Candy) are both excellent in their roles as Poppa Williams and his ol’ hog-riding Korean War war buddy, so much so, you’d like to see more of them in the film.
All in all, despite Leonard Maltin and the Internet hoards of war, Easy Rider: The Ride Back it’s not as Wiseauian bad as they’ll lead you to believe. (The same arguement we had with our review of Jeremy Saville’s radio dramedy, Loqueesha). And for those who have stated Phil Pitzer “thankfully, has never made another movie” and “hasn’t made another movie since”: Phil produced the upcoming Cannes Without a Plan (2021), the third writing-directing effort from Julie Simone Robb (NBC-TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street) that also stars Pitzer’s The Ride Back cast member, Jodie Fisher (of Charles Band’s Blood Dolls).
Courtesy of a new distribution deal with retro-imprint Kino Loeber, Easy Rider: The Ride Back is available worldwide as 2019-issued Blu and DVD and VOD stream on Amazon Prime and You Tube Movies. Yeah, you’ll find that errant You Tube freebie (you know you look there and TubiTV first before you buy), but do Phil Pitzer a solid and support indie film, will ya? Pay for it, okay?
Like Kowalski said in Vanishing Point: “Fuck the man!” Keep on making movies, Phil. You’re alright, kid. . . .
So, did you know . . . sandwiched between the ‘60s original and Phil Pitzer’s 2012 revisiting, Easy Rider: The Ride Back, there was another unofficial “sequel,” which concentrates on a search for the famed Captain America chopper that appeared in Easy Rider? Never heard of it? It’s okay. No one did. Join us at 3 pm for more tales from the fast and the furious . . . with Me & Will.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.