Everybody loves a good car wreck. Seriously, that's why NASCAR became what it has become with fans tuning in week in and week out waiting for the "Big One" to happen. Why do you think the two most popular tracks (Daytona and Talladega) are the 4 most-watched races every year. Then who hasn't sat in an hour-long traffic jam because of rubber-necking; people looking for an opportunity to see blood on the highways. "Death Car on the Freeway" tries to capitalize on that to hook you in then hopes you stick around for the important life message.
The movie is a thinly-veiled indoctrination attempt to teach the world that women can be strong, independent and leaders of industry. That motif is batted around constantly as the lead newswoman questions if she can make it on her own and struggles to make a name for herself free from the help of her rather clingy and insecure husband. However, the film spends more time trying to de-testosterone men than to empower women as it looks to even the playing field. Moreover, it puts our leading lady, who weighs in at maybe 100lbs soaking wet, into numerous dangerous situations without any form of back-up or protection and only by the sheer willpower of the goddess walks through the valley of darkness reemerging unscathed at the end. Honestly, if the men in this movie were as evil as the filmmakers made them seem, Jan would have ended up as a victim, instead of the reporter, on the 6 o'clock news.
The bright point to the movie is that scattered throughout the indoctrination are some rather nifty car stunts and skilled speed driving on the newly developed LA freeway system of the CHiP's era. Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper) directs, and plays a bit part as a driving instructor, some decent action shots. Seriously, pulling off the gags that they did with the Dodge Van were impressive, having personally driven a '77 version and knowing the physical limitations of the vehicle. The highway crashes are intricately reminiscent of those 70s CHiP's shows, but you need to pay attention to what's going on in the background as the surrounding vehicles play an important part in the dance.
The cast has some quality names, with Peter Graves, Frank Gorshin and George Hamilton leading the pack. Needham also brings along some of his faithful (past or future) with Alfie Wise (Hooper) and Tara Buckman (Who? She was the girl in the purple body suit in Cannonball Run. Oh Yes! She was HOT in that!). Then with Abe Vigoda, Barbara Rush and Dinah Shore playing fill-in roles, you have yourself a decent quality cast. Unfortunately, Shelley Hack lives up to her namesake and just doesn't pull off the strong female lead that this movie demands. Her waif-life stature doesn't inspire confidence that she could handle the situations she purposely puts herself into, unlike if the lead was being played by a woman like Pam Grier, Lynda Carter, Linda Gray or Adrienne Barbeau. Although none of these ladies are Chuck Norris, you at least would think they could defend themselves admirably in a one-on-one situation instead of flinching every time a twig breaks (or a mousetrap snaps).
All in all, Death Car (shouldn't that be Death Van?) is a decent experience. Although the beat-it-over-your-head feminism was fresh and new in 1979, after 40 years of constant #metoo hypocrisy it gets rather stale. You don't get to play Lady Godiva to promote your latest project then complain how nobody takes you seriously beyond that of being a sex object. Unfortunately, the Left still hasn't figured it out; you can't expect equality when you still want to be placed up on a pedestal or protected like an endangered species. Every "woke" woman thinks she should be a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company, but none think they should also grab a shovel and help dig that ditch. That has been the Achilles' heel of the movement from the beginning. So if you can stomach the rhetoric, pop some corn and enjoy the show.