New Line // 2003 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 24th, 2004
The Passion of the Chrysler
Jim Caviezel (The Count of Monte Cristo) takes the wheel as a high-octane vigilante looking for the dirtbag that ran over his wife. Clocking in at 80 minutes, does the movie lay down some rubber and take off, or spin its wheels?
It's a gorgeous day somewhere in the Midwest. A beautiful woman in a red dress crosses the road to buy some fruit from a farm stand. Her husband watches her from across the freeway, from their motel room, reveling in her grace. She makes her purchase and gazes at her husband. And suddenly -- a car approaches. A giant 1972 Cadillac El Dorado, bearing down on her. Thump! The woman is sent hurling in the air, and lands, dead. And all her husband can do is watch.
Five years later, we meet the husband again. Rennie (Caviezel) tools around in a sweet Barracuda, searching for the man who killed his wife. Armed with a police scanner, a CB radio, and a head full of bad intentions, he has become adept at tracking down this hit-and-run hoodlum.
His pursuit brings him to the killer's next victim: Molly (Rhona Mitra). Molly is already shouldering a good amount of baggage from a previous car "accident," where her family was wiped out. Things don't improve for her when she finds herself embroiled in a nightmarish pile-up one night. Trucks careen, horses gallop, men get sandwiched, and her best friend is smoked -- all courtesy of Mr. El Dorado.
Rennie and Molly connect, and after some brief, brief dialogue, decide to go after the perpetrator in tandem, with Rennie releasing bits of exposition on the way. Keeping an eye on these vehicular shenanigans is Macklin (Frankie Faison), a "traffic investigator" (an occupation not fully explained; "Well, sir, upon further investigation, I can say with all certainty, that the traffic in question is indeed jammed!") who exercises little control over his impulses.
The stakes jump when the enigmatic killer manages to nab Molly under Rennie's nose. Together, Rennie and Macklin take off on an exposition-drenched road trip that will end at the place where it all started.
Wow, I was primed to like this movie. I've enjoyed Caviezel in everything he's done. And there were promises of big-ass car chases and car wrecks. For the first few moments of the film I began to think, "Gee, how come I never heard more about this movie? This isn't too bad."
Alas, there wasn't enough in the tank to carry Highwaymen past the Mediocrity City limits.
Let's look at the good things about the movie. First, it's beautifully photographed. Whether the scenes transpire in a gritty junkyard or on sparsely populated city streets or the expansive vistas of the Midwest, director Robert Harmon succeeded in capturing some stunning visuals. Second, the action scenes are exciting. The car-related mayhem is a real scorcher. Apart from a painfully anticlimactic final showdown, the chases and crashes are turbolicious. The excitement factor is helped loads by the realness of the stunts, the way cars were really crashed and driven with reckless abandon and not computer-generated. And third, the villain was creepy -- up to a point. The mysterious driver of the Cadillac, who isn't full revealed, Jaws-like, until the end is an amalgam of man and machinery. No, he's not "more machine now than man," but he's a ruined, crippled guy who's pimped his ride to be a part of him almost. The way in which he drives, with metal limbs poking the gas pedals and shifting the gears, is effectively bizarre. But after the big reveal, our antagonist became kind if boring.
Which brings me to the first of my list of what's not so good. The characters were either a) not terribly interesting or b) laughably inconsistent. Caviezel's Rennie smolders a good bit, and certainly has some bad-ass moments, but for the most part he's lacking a real passion for vengeance or atonement or whatever is, err, driving him. Granted, the actor usually plays his roles more reservedly, but I felt this was a character who was getting crazy in the head. That didn't come through as much as I hoped for.
Molly was your typical victim, whose arc ended in a profoundly predictable event. You see, she never drove a car again after her first accident. Do you think she might take the wheel before the movie is over? Huh? Maybe?
The worst is Macklin. Framed as a by-the-book quasi-cop in the beginning, he immediately ejects all this characterization and goes on a blind chase with a potential nutcase after a murderer, without backup, without weapons, and without a clue. And wait until you see the final scene of the movie! It seemingly set the stage for a spin-off flick -- Maniac Traffic Investigator
Furthermore, Highwaymen is plagued with gaping logic holes. For example, why are there never any other cars on the road during the chase scenes? Why does the killer decide to tow a flipped-over Saab for a few miles (an admittedly cool-looking scene) despite the attention it may grab from local authorities? Or how come people can't simply jump out of the way of cars rolling at three miles an hour? And how in the world does that guy survive that collision at the end?!
Technically, the disc is stupendous. The ultra-crisp picture comes in full-screen and widescreen versions, with -- surprise, surprise -- the widescreen being the only way to go. The colors are sharp and vibrant, and dark sequences translate wonderfully, particularly in the nighttime chase scenes. Sometimes after watching so much full frame minimalist filth, I forget how great a DVD can look. Highwaymen is a boffo reminder. The movie sounds fantastic, too. Boasting both Dolby Digital and DTS mixes, Highwaymen will really push your system. Aggressive surround use and a thundering LFE will get your house shaking.
Unfortunately, New Line shirks the bonus features, including only previews and some ho-hum DVD content.
With a runtime that's a shade under most TV movies-of-the-week, Highwaymen flies by certainly, but like a bright red Ferrari with a hideous dent in the quarter-panel, you'll only notice it for its imperfection.
New Line is guilty for letting this fairly dumb movie put of the garage, with merits applied for outstanding technical achievements. In the end, however, it's a skidmark.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD-ROM Content