Joe’s $1-a-week cinema: Knight Rider
Knight Rider, 1982. Spoiler alert: David Hasselhoff walks into a bar.
Civilisations are built on the backs of great men, and, where possible, great Pontiacs. In 1982, when humankind was still reeling from the release of the Toyota Camry and crying out for a hero, such a man and such a Pontiac answered the call.
His name was Michael Knight and he was to go on to change the face of crime-fighting for a generation, as well as deliver the 2000 Sydney Olympics on time and on budget.
One cannot overstate the importance of Knight Rider, any more than one can praise too much the community work of its star David Hasselhoff and his tireless efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of binge drinking.
I was reminded of this recently when reading about Hasselhoff’s latest campaign, in which he acted the part of someone who went on a two-day drinking bender, punched a doctor in the face and wet his bed. This effort was made all the more impressive by the fact that he did it while wearing a plastic tuxedo, a statesmanlike ensemble that whispers “old money”. As I marvelled at Hasselhoff’s endurance, dexterity and nonchalant disregard for hotel linen I realised that these were in many ways the same qualities that drove Michael Knight in his endless quest to rid the world of vehicular crime.
Of course Michael was not alone in this pursuit. Always by his side – as well as underneath and on top of him – was KITT, the wisecracking yet oddly effeminate Trans Am that appeared to be modelled on Higgins from Magnum PI. (KITT of course stood for “Knight Industries Two Thousand”, offering the extraordinary proof that its inventors had managed to create an indestructible talking car without knowing how to use numerals.) He is also provided with on-road support by his handler Devon, who is to this day the only intelligence agent to be named after processed meat.
The three first came together in the movie-length pilot “Knight of the Phoenix”, whose title – like “Knight Rider” itself – is cleverly constructed so as to appear to be a pun but in fact not quite make any sense. In it LA police detective Michael Long (played by actor/magician Larry Anderson) is horribly disfigured while trying to protect two technology executives from industrial espionage, thus sparking his lifelong interest in intellectual property law. After extensive plastic surgery he is reborn in the form of Hasselhoff, who, proving himself to be a man of excellent taste as well as looks, quickly gives himself an approving nod in the mirror. His mysterious benefactor Wilton Knight, whose identity, history, motive, face and private estate are mysteriously revealed in the first half hour of the show, bestows upon him the name “Michael Knight”. Wilton wants Michael to join his organisation FLAG, or the Foundation for Law and Government, a hi-tech crime-fighting organisation. (This is not to be confused with P-FLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, whose objectives are somewhat different.)
He is also told that for all intents and purposes Michael Long is dead – a sentiment shared by many Essendon fans at the 2001 Grand Final – and that Michael Knight has a once in a lifetime chance to serve humanity. At first Michael says no but they then offer him the car and he says yes, thus establishing a firm values system still adhered to by young men the world over.
For his first assignment he is sent to Silicon Valley, where some more intellectual property rights are being infringed upon, and he seeks to bring the perpetrators to justice. For reasons that later become clear,* he begins this process by visiting a bar. Here he meets the beautiful waitress Maggie who, in an unbelievable twist, is also a struggling single mum. She and her young son Buddy form an immediate attachment to Michael, for obvious reasons. Michael then sets about infiltrating the IT company, which he can only do – again, for obvious reasons – by winning a demolition derby scheduled for the next day.
Having won the derby Michael then proceeds to phase three of his plan, which involves going back to the bar again. However his plan is derailed when he gets caught up in a drunken brawl, another powerful scene for which Hasselhoff drew on a rich wellspring of personal experience. Michael is thrown in jail but manages to quietly sneak out after KITT crashes through the concrete wall. He then uses the ejector seat to get into the company’s HQ and receives the obligatory non-fatal shoulder wound before chasing the bad guys to the airport where the obligatory private jet awaits them. The baddies try to stop KITT with road blocks but anyone concerned about this can take comfort from the adorable Wikipedia entry on the matter, which proudly notes that “KITT however, easily avoids the barricades with his armor, speed, and Turbo Boosts” (sic).
After defeating the bad guys by inadvertently killing one of them – thus instantly eclipsing the total bodycount of the entire A-Team series – Michael explains to Maggie that he must leave her to go and fight crime. This results in perhaps the greatest line of all time:
Maggie: But what about Buddy?
Michael: He’s a good kid. I think you should keep him.
As the tears flow we cut to another private jet, where Michael formally agrees to become a genuine FLAG enthusiast and, as our Wikipedia correspondent dutifully notes: “They celebrate the partnership with a drink.”
The poor bastard never stood a chance.
*Not so much later in the movie as later in David Hasselhoff’s life.
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