Color, 1977, 101 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by Stelvio Massi
Starring Maurizio Merli, Giancarlo Sbragia, Angelo Infanti, Lilli Carati, Glauco Onorato, Orazio Orlando
Camera Obscura (Blu-ray) (Austria R0 HD), 01 Distribuzione (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Only one Italian cop action film features the line "Come on, poopy-pants, you're lucky I got a grip on this ride" before the main titles are even finished... and that honor goes to Poliziotto Sprint, also shopped around under the English title Highway Racer but barely screened outside of Italy and Japan. This was the first of six entertaining collaborations between director Stelvio Massi and poliziotteschi star Maurizio Merli, who had shot to fame just two years earlier with Roma Violenta and cranked out numerous instant classics in the interim including The Tough Ones, Violent Naples, A Special Cop in Action, Mannaja, and The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist. Here he loses his trademark mustache (or "copstache," as the Blu-ray synopsis puts it) and delivers one of his sunniest performances as a car-crazy cop who manages to turn Rome into a wild demolition derby. Another box office hit, it paved the way for the remaining Merli-Massi films like Convoy Busters, Magnum Cop, and The Rebel.
After a car chase goes bad and he ends up in an ambulance along with his partner, officer Marco Palma (Merli) insists he could have gotten the perps with a lot more horsepower. His girlfriend, Francesca (To Be Twenty's Carati, bearing a startling resemblance to Isabelle Adjani), works in a sports car dealership and gives him the idea to approach his superior about dealing with these criminals driving "souped-up beasts." In fact, it's apparent that the gang currently striking all over town has a pro race car driver as its getaway driver, and when tragedy strikes and Palma disobeys orders, he gives his notice -- but his boss, Tagliaferri (Death Rage's Sbragia), has even earned the respect of the ringleader, Dossena (The Valachi Papers' Infanti), a.k.a. "Il Nizzardo," with his former driving acumen and encourages Palma to go undercover. The secret weapon: refurbishing a Ferrari back to racing condition to get Palma on the same playing field, with Tagliaferri getting his driving skills up to snuff.
Energetically scored by the great Stelvio Cipriani (complete with some amusing cribbing from Iron Butterfly, not for the only time) and loaded with great '70s Rome location footage, Poliziotto Spring is a great blast of action filmmaking with a huge number of car chases and crazy stunts with the number of totaled cars seeming to rack up in the dozens. The actual crime plot is paper thin and even vanishes for long stretches, especially during Palma's training in the second act, but that's perfectly fine since you get to see Merli in fine form along with lots of auto action.
Given that there's only a slim video history for this film including an Italian DVD with no English-friendly options, it should go without saying that the 2020 Blu-ray from Camera Obscura is the best way by far to experience this underrated chunk of poliziottesco fun. The transfer looks excellent and has a nice grain structure throughout, while colors and detail are very healthy and impressive. Italian and German audio options are provided (LPCM mono) with optional English or German subtitles; given that this film was actually shot in Italian with the actors appearing to all provide their own voices, that's definitely the way to watch it. The one big video extra here is "Faster Than a Bullet" (19m43s) with film historian Roberto Curti chatting about Merli's career at the time (and the familiarity of his mustache), the unique characteristics of this film and its main character, the screeching tires heard when young audiences got out of seeing this film in theaters, and the general car chase craze at the time epitomized by Smokey and the Bandit. A gallery of 28 stills and posters is also included, and the slipcase / digipak packaging features an insert booklet with an essay by Christian Kessler, "A Song of Junk and Sheet Metal," about the film's place in the poliziotteschi canon.
Reviewed on March 28, 2020