At the peak of his powers, and but one year removed from the greatest upset in the history of professional football, Joe Willie Namath – born and bred in coal country, yet destined for the bright lights of Broadway – decided that come hell or high water, he just had to do a biker movie. And not just any biker movie, but C.C. & Company, a dead-on-arrival exercise in inertia so lame that despite the presence of Ann-Margaret and the era’s most damaged collection of dirtbags not in the Manson family, not a single breast would be exposed, nor anyone actually raped. Sure, women protest and fight back – even clawing now and again – but given the resulting smiles and unmistakable cooing, few courts in the land would render a guilty verdict. So instead of full-tilt Joe, unmasked and unhinged, we get the kindler, gentler variety; a man who lusts more for car parts than a woman’s anatomy, even one so inviting as the decade’s most beloved redhead. More to the point, this is the world’s lone biker gang who refuses to traffic in narcotics, never so much as lighting up a joint to escape the night. No alcohol either, which makes little sense in light of their one minor sin, using the gang’s babes to hustle bread for expenses and the like. Stone cold sober, the girls hitchhike, seduce, and fuck, all for as little as fifteen bucks.
We know we’re in for something decidedly less sinister than Easy Rider when, during the opening credits, Joe (as C.C. Ryder) prowls the aisles of a supermarket not to rape, pillage, or mow down blue hairs and their coupons, but casually steal a sandwich, one piece at a time. With goofy tunes on the soundtrack to let us all know C.C. is as harmless as a lamb, he pretends to shop while first lifting some bread, then some meat, then a little mustard to round things out. Silent and grim, much like Eastwood in the Leone Western of your choosing, Namath speaks but a few words in the opening five minutes, pausing only to ask a worker, “Where do you keep the cupcakes?” Downing his Twinkie with a wink and a nod, C.C. gulps some milk, wipes his mouth, and exits, but only after spending a dime on a pack of gum. Cracking the sunglasses and sleeveless denim at last, Namath hits the road, riding his zebra-striped hog while his namesake blares in song for a frightful nation to consider. The credits continue for at least another few minutes, employing split-screen effects, slo-mo, and freeze frame with little regard for coherence. No one expected the country’s most famous athlete to murder a priest on his way through the frozen foods, but few men of the time were less menacing than the baby-faced Namath and that unruly mane. This will not, like the year’s previous cycle-tastic hit, end in flame and death, but likely no more than a hair-mussing. Hell, Joe might even ride off into the sunset in his trademark fur coat.
After a good ten additional minutes of whooping and hollering – and biker antics not exactly Altamont worthy – Joe and his crew come upon an idled limo, which just happens to house Ann-Margaret. The other bikers want to rape her, of course, but Joe is more kindhearted. He pulls his companions off the frightened lass, before climbing in the backseat to exhibit his charms. Few grinned like old Joe, and it’s easy to see why half the country’s women wanted nothing more than to be ravaged on his shag carpet. He’s no actor, but then again, who else can he play but himself? The interrupted rape leads to a confrontation between Joe and Moon, the gang’s ape-like leader. After flexing his muscles, Moon orders the women to work the streets while he spies on a naked woman in a pond. So as the camp settles in for the night – a few bucks richer and much, much dirtier – Joe decides he’d rather inspect a bike than bed down with Moon’s chick. She’s offended, so she strikes him. He protests, then rapes her quietly. It’s less an exertion of power than fulfilling the audience’s need to see America’s top heterosexual in action. Too many were playing for the other team in those Woodstock days, but not our Joe. Never our Joe.
Now at the midway point, and nothing much by way of plot save the exploitation of women and Joe’s white teeth, a story of sorts is introduced via a Motocross event. You see, C.C. has grown tired of the biker life, what with its freedom, chronic unemployment, and on-demand sex, and he wants to have steady work as a BMX champion. There’s money in it, he believes, and after stealing a Kawasaki (!) from the world’s dumbest car salesman, he plans to enter a big race to win some money and, he hopes, Ann’s heart. Ann is an educated, high-powered fashion queen from New York, but after a few days in the desert, she decides nothing excites her more than a stud on a bike. This is a woman who slept with Elvis, so naturally Joe fits right in. Joe pays his entry fee (“You’re #12…I hope it’s lucky for you!”) and, thanks to the usual last-lap misfortunes of the favorite, wins the day by carrying his bike across the finish line. Moon is disgusted by Joe’s triumph, possibly because he senses his impending flight from the group. No matter, as Joe hastens his departure by deliberately withholding his prize money from the gang. There’s a fight, more music, and, after the dust has settled, another rape. This time, Joe has more than sex on his mind; he needs to rape Moon’s woman so he can take back his wad of cash. “It’s just the Boy Scout in me,” he reasons.
Now on his own, Joe returns to Ann’s hotel to begin his courtship. They flirt, make eyes, and laugh, which leads to a bizarre sequence at some rowdy club. The main attraction, Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, is fronted by an albino sporting a mullet, who has apparently decided that his best bet was to imitate James Brown as much as humanly possible. As the editing gets more and more ridiculous, feet, hips, and Joe’s bear-like chest become indistinguishable from the flailing band. It is then implied that Joe and Ann make love, though one cannot risk a second viewing to be certain. At any rate, they end up by the pool, speaking softly about leaving town and parting at last. Shall we have one final day together? What follows is the most saccharine montage in movie history, where a Helen Reddy-style tune accompanies feminine hygiene commercial images of the pair riding bikes, playing in a stream, holding hands, towel-snapping by the pool, feeding ducks, softly kissing, watching the sunset, and, finally, emerging from a screening of Platoon in utter exhaustion. At last, he’s prepared to reveal how he got trapped in a deadly biker gang: “I dug the freedom.” That, and he was beaten to a pulp when, as a mechanic, the gang refused to pay their bill. So he went off to discover America, a process that, then and now, means doing as little as possible while usually remaining in the same place, year after depressing year. But Joe was ready for a change.
Needless to say, Joe’s desire for a new life doesn’t mean settling down. He just wants to be a horny layabout with a woman in tow. But before that big day, Ann will have to be kidnapped and not raped by a bitter Moon and his betrayed followers. Instead of Ann’s virtue, Moon wants $1,000 cash. Not having that kind of money, Joe offers Moon a better deal: race me on a flat track for $2,000 with the possibility that you can still rape Ann. No dummy, this Moon fella, Moon accepts, and they’re off to the races: ten laps, anything goes. What follows is not a demolition derby, or even the sort of last man standing event so prevalent in the cynical 1970s; instead, the two men ride around the track like they’re fastened to a merry-go-round. It has all the drama of a yellow flag lap at Indy, as if we’d prefer a safety-first, decidedly sober Mr. Namath over the balls-first, Suzie Kolber-era Joe. Fine, they strike a fence now and again, but where are the gladiators we’d been promised? Even the race’s conclusion, where Moon flies out of the track and explodes into flame, is handled with little grace and even less humor. That said, the race track sequence does allow one to say that against the odds, America managed to produce a movie where Joe Namath inhabits the same screenplay as an Antonioni reference.
Moon now dead, the gang chases Joe through the streets, hoping to catch him before a Dead End sign allows Joe to fake his death over the cliff, sneak back to the top, and set every last motorcycle on fire. It’s even less thrilling as it plays out, but it does spur Ann to declare that she wants to see the country on the back of Joe’s ride. Any fool can have money, power, and New York; she prefers dusty, money-free days, shower-free nights, and little but the promise of Joe’s exquisitely dimpled chin. It was good enough for America, dammit, and it’s good enough for Ann. And while Joe would never again play in the Super Bowl, nor be free from crippling injury the remainder of his football days, he’d have his C.C. & Company, a movie locked in place as the new standard for jock arrogance. While you suffered in summer stock and obscure commercial work, Joe was getting paid just north of half a million to ride a motorcycle and pull punches in the desert. Not bad work if you can get it. And you can’t, because it’s all spoken for.