Two-Lane Blacktop Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson Director: Monte Hellman The film: Cult director Monte Hellman got his career under way in the Philippines with low-budget but competent films such as Flight to Fury and Back Door to Hell (both 1964), the former featuring Philippines president Joseph Estrada and the great Vic Diaz, and both starring a young Jack Nicholson. Hellman and Nicholson made a couple of more films together back in the US, before going their separate ways to work on two rather different road movie projects - Easy Rider for Nicholson, and the less commercially popular Two-Lane Blacktop for Hellman. Taken at face value, Two-Lane Blacktop is a film about a road race along Route 66 between a souped-up, stripped-down 1955 Chevrolet 150 and a brand-new Orbit Orange Pontiac GTO. But this being a Monte Hellman film, it's filled with metaphors and bleak moodiness. The Chevy is driven by singer-songwriter James Taylor and the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson (right, both appearing in their only screen roles). Their oil-stained, denim-clad characters (credited simply as The Driver and The Mechanic) compete in drag races around the country. They meet the GTO driver (Warren Oates, dressed like a weekend golfer and on top form) at a petrol station and challenge him to a race, with each other's cars as the prize. In any other road movie, this would all build to an exciting finish-line climax, but from here on the drivers seem to gradually lose interest in the race and the episodes that follow are less about the race than the racers themselves and their unlikely bonding. Oates picks up hitchhikers at every opportunity, and spins each of them a different back story yarn about his life, while Taylor and Wilson's professional, almost spiritually focused relationship unravels as Taylor starts to fall for a young girl (Laurie Bird) they pick up early in the film. Two-Lane Blacktop may disappoint viewers expecting lots of action and, despite the freedom motif, the US has seldom looked so gloomy on screen. But for anyone open to the darker, more thoughtful side of the American road trip, there's nothing to beat it. The extras: This new Criterion release is stacked with extras, starting with two audio commentaries featuring Hellman, screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and author David Meyer, both of which are absorbing and insightful. Disc two contains more than two hours of interviews with Hellman, an uneasy Taylor, Kris Kristofferson (whose music features on the soundtrack) and the film's producers, 25 minutes of screen-test outtakes with Taylor and Bird, illustrated essays on the restoration of one of the cars used in the film and on the locations, plenty of publicity material (including the original press book) and a trailer. Inside the DVD case is a 38-page booklet with appreciative entries from Tom Waits, director Richard Linklater and others, and the film's 114-page screenplay. Widescreen-enhanced (2.35:1) picture quality is good and the soundtrack is offered in original mono and a new Dolby 5.1 version.