First time I caught Thunder Run I must have been about 11 and watched it with my brother. He had recorded it off the TV and to this day I wonder what his inclination had been. He wasn’t a big movie lover and Thunder Run was not the type of flick I would normally attribute to him. The basic idea was entirely in my wheelhouse and I spent years tracking it down before finding a DVD and then taking a similar amount of time to re-watch it.
Thunder Run sees Charlie (Forrest Tucker) struggling to maintain his cobalt mine in Nevada and accepting a lucrative offer from an old war buddy (John Ireland) to make a run with some plutonium to a facility in Arizona. This run would require Charlie to reinforce a truck and to evade a terrorist militia wanting to get their hands on the load.
Thunder Run is equal parts The Road Warrior, The A-Team and Wargames, with a smattering of Porky’s to appeal to the youth, filmed against the sprawling decay of 80’s Reganism by way of Cannon, yes, this is a Cannon movie.
Tucker makes his film theatrical appearance in Thunder Run and he proves he is more than up to the task. He has a great rapport with the younger cast, as does his wife Marilyn O’Connor. Director Gary Hudson does good work at blending the age difference to keep the movie’s appeal aimed foremost at the younger cinema-going demographic whilst protecting the reputation of the veteran movie stars.
John Ireland’s limited role as Charlie’s war buddy is very much what you would expect John Ireland to do in a mid-80’s actioner, come across as a likeable guy, however, there is a sinister undertone the hero can’t see, but the audience can. John Shepherd, fresh off Friday the 13th Part V shines as Charlie’s grandson Chris. Whilst I was hesitant about Chris and his collection of friends becoming a larger part of the story they ultimately kept the film lively with their antics.
The rest of the cast is a delightful collection of familiar young faces. Night of the Creeps Jill Whitlow plays Chris’ girlfriend Kim. C.S.I’s Wallace Langham, credited as Wally Ward, plays computer hacker Paul and gets to romp around with the stunning Cheryl Lynn. Vice Academy regular Elizabeth Kaitan has a small role alongside TV Psychic Patti Negri (Hi Patti, hope you are well. 😀)
The film is distinctly cut into two halves. The first half is the setup, the second focusing on the run. Setting up for the run feels unnecessarily padded with drag racing, the kids hitting a bar, a motorcycle chase and a little nudity. The nefarious militia plot and plan their attack whilst Charlie ruminates with his wife about going back out on the road.
The Thunder of Thunder Run is the name of the truck Charlie acquires and modifies. This is a big rig branded as a Kenworth 6625, a customised 1975 Kenworth W-900A (as driven by the Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit.) From what I can gather, there were two used in the film, the real Thunder for the closeups and a stunt Thunder for the iconic jump and the smashing through of road blocks etc. The real Thunder was a privately owned vehicle that has since been destroyed and the stunt Thunder might have been a stock, or junker, that could be thrown about in various action sequences.
From what I remember the A-Team sequence felt longer and my fuzzy recollection had the truck laden with a lot more gadgets and booby traps than what we see here. Some of the modifications have some brains behind them, like the smoke stack extensions. Thunder spends most of the chase having missiles shot at it’s tyres, I don’t know what Charlie reinforced them with, but they stay intact for the most part.
The climactic battle of the Thunder Run takes its time to arrive, however, the length of the assault is impressive with stunts, explosions and crashes becoming constant. Once started the action is continuous for 30 minutes, with the odd cut to some of the kids attempting to hack a computer. The pacing of the finale is impressive and delivers a rousing conclusion after the first hour.
Alan Rachins plays Carlos, the lead villain who descends upon Thunder’s run in a slick looking black rig and Charlie and Carlos trade paint as the action heightens. Carlos is an underdeveloped villain and his motives are glossed over. Frustratingly, Thunder itself is abandoned during this sequence and the last we see it is dumped in a small ravine at the side of the road. It would have been nice to see Charlie return to Thunder with the intention of resurrecting it.
Thunder Run can only exist in the 80’s. The combination of the grimy 80’s look, keyboard based soundtrack and cast of young up and comers scream rubbish, but the combination of the efforts really pays off and we are treated to a terrific dose of nostalgia. This might have been one of the final nails in the coffin for the car based action movie, however, it’s an obscure relic that is much more fun than it should be. Forrest Tucker passed away the same year this was released in the States and whilst not a commercial success, it’s still a fun conclusion to his impressive career.
Thunder Run has some terrific artwork, beyond the iconic poster the UK saw some fun wrap-around artwork on the VHS. The DVD art was a little more modern, but lacks the explosive style of the original art.