In Two-Lane Blacktop’s rural American landscapes, Monte Hellman captures an aura of existential despondence that’s married to a far less evocative (and durable) strain of counterculture romantic doom. Hellman’s cult classic road movie follows a vacant driver (James Taylor) and his equally blank passenger-seat sidekick (Dennis Wilson) as they meander about the country, looking to make some cash from drag-racing their souped-up 1955 Chevy. Their aimless anti-adventures eventually lead them to pick up a similarly featureless hitchhiking girl (Laurie Bird), and to engage in a cross-country match against deceitful Warren Oates and his yellow Pontiac GTO. Except, however, that there’s no real race to speak of – instead of competition, the owners of these dueling vehicles form a half-assed friendship marked by either wholesale indifference to everything (Taylor and Wilson) or self-deluding dreams of reinvention and success (Oates). It’s an impeccably crafted work of ambivalence that only obliquely touches upon its generational and gender undercurrents, and one that’s elevated by a soulful, humorous Oates performance of deeply humanistic pitifulness. Hellman isn’t interested in conventional narrative but, rather, in crafting a free-flowing hippie-ish mood piece about futility (hence the film stock burning to shreds in the final image). And in that limited sense, Two-Lane Blacktop is almost outstanding – almost, because Hellman’s story and characters, seemingly guided by whichever way the wind is blowing, eventually morph from intriguing to insufferable.