Three for the Road

Directed by Bill Norton, Three for the Road (1987), a romantic comedy road movie, was filmed in Hot Springs (Garland County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County) but was set in unidentified states “down in the South.” The film was unsuccessful with critics and at the box office.

Paul (Charlie Sheen), an ambitious congressional assistant, is assigned by arrogant U.S. Senator Kitteredge to deliver his rebellious, mildly misbehaving daughter Robin (Kerri Green) to a reform school in the South. Paul and his friend T. S. (Alan Ruck) suffer many wacky situations, inflicted on them by mischievous Robin and eccentric Southerners. The reform school turns out to be a virtual prison. Robin and Paul fall in love, and he engineers her escape. Robin then reconciles with her mother, Blanche (Sally Kellerman), who was forced by Sen. Kitteredge to abandon Robin.

Three for the Road relies on low comedy but is rarely funny. There are repeated vehicle chases and foot chases, as if the filmmakers were determined to emulate Smokey and the Bandit (1977), a much more popular Southern road movie. The final scenes, at the reform school, seek to replicate One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), a far more successful film about an oppressive detention facility.

Most of the Southern men in the movie are stereotypes, including several louts (one of whom is called a “Neanderthal” by a woman), fat policemen (“Officer Merle” and “Officer Earl”), and a post office worker who validates Paul’s dictum, “Never underestimate the laziness of federal employees.” The Southern women depicted are fewer but portrayed more favorably, especially the funny, sexy, and cheerful Missy (Blair Tefkin), the most likeable character in the film. There is only one minor African-American character in this vision of the South.

Three for the Road was a commercial and critical failure. The Variety review (April 8, 1987) was unrelenting, claiming it “would more aptly be titled ‘Three Strikes for the Road,’ so totally does the film fail to connect on all counts. A statically staged and poorly played road pic [picture]…story is so slight and execution so uninspired that one can only wonder what the filmmakers had in mind.…Norton can’t generate an ounce of real feeling behind any of this nonsense.” The reviewer also noted the “overbearing soundtrack.”

The movie’s director, screenwriter, and three stars were all considered promising newcomers in Hollywood, but only one of them went on to long-term success. Charlie Sheen made Three for the Road after notable films Red Dawn (1984), Lucas (1986), and Platoon (1986) and followed it with well-reviewed movies Wall Street (1987) and Young Guns (1988) before going on to decades of stardom in both films and television. Kerri Green was featured in The Goonies (1985) and Lucas, but after Three for the Road, she was in only two minor feature films. Alan Ruck was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), but after Norton’s film he was relegated mostly to television. Director Norton, a protégé of George Lucas, followed Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), a major Disney/Touchstone feature, with Three for the Road but never made another feature. Screenwriter Richard Martini claimed that his script was a workable political comedy about a conservative senator and his liberal daughter but was ruined by studio rewrites. He found only occasional work after Three for the Road.

The movie was released on DVD in 2020 by Frolic Pictures on a disc with the equally unmemorable low-budget action movie Battletruck (1982). Frolic put an “adults only” warning on the disc container, ignoring the fact that both movies were rated PG. Video quality of both films on the disc is poor.

For additional information:
Riley, Lee, and David Schumacher. The Sheens: Martin, Charlie and Emilio Estevez. New York: St. Martins, 1989.

Three for the Road.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094140 (accessed July 3, 2021).

Winters, Richard. “Three for the Road (1987).” Scopophilia, January 21, 2021.  https://scopophiliamovieblog.com/2021/01/21/three-for-the-road-1987/ (accessed July 3, 2021).

Michael Klossner
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 07/03/2021