Judge David Johnson found this movie to be a perfect "what-not-to-do" primer for roadside police stops.
Aragorn in 60 seconds.
This 1996 made-for-TV movie sports a pre-sensation Viggo Mortensen in the role of a committed, though impulsive, husband with a love of muscle cars and an analytical-thinking deficiency.
Facts of the Case
Jimmy Kowalski (Mortensen, Hidalgo) has a baggage-ridden past. A highly decorated former Army Ranger who kicked serious butt in Desert Storm, Kowalski was later discharged on unfriendly terms. Following that episode, he got into some trouble with the law. Then he found a new love in stock car racing. But it wasn't until he met and married his wife Raphinia (Christine Elise) that he found true contentment.
The two live in the Midwest, trying to eke out an existence. Raphinia is knocked up and bedridden, so the responsibility falls to her husband to provide for the expanding family. Jimmy takes work where can find it. So when a friend mentions a potential job driving a gorgeous Dodge Hemi Challenger to Utah for delivery, he seizes it.
His journey is cut short when he learns his wife has been hospitalized for lupus. Unfortunately, Jimmy is 1,200 miles away from his ailing spouse, and when he tears off in his car to be with her, a heated encounter with the police stalls the emergency trip even more. He's bagged for speeding, and learning that he may be held longer than he can afford, he decides to take off. It all goes downhill from there, as Jimmy leads the police on a wild chase through four states, as white trash militias cheer him, a popular DJ (Jason Priestley, Beverly Hills 90210) eggs them on, and a pissed-off Fed (Keith David, They Live) is out for blood.
This can't end well.
Car chases. That's what this move has going for it. Though it was certainly the headlining status of Viggo Mortensen's name that got this disc unearthed in the first place, the subjective value of Vanishing Point begins and ends with the viewer's affinity for car chases.
The film is built on a ridiculous premise. The guy just needs to get to the hospital to see his sick wife, but thanks to the unlucky confluence of a grumpy cop and Jimmy being an idiot, it's suddenly Dukes of Hazzard. Every time I've been pulled over for speeding—not that I'm a habitual offender or anything, but we all have our lead-foot moments—the first thing the cop asks me is "Is this an emergency?" It takes a far leap from reality to get the movie rolling as a good-guy-chased-by-the-authorities exercise. The Blues Brothers pulled it off. Vanishing Point does not. Seriously, what was Jimmy's train of thought before dusting the cops?
…So my wife's sick in the hospital. What's the best way for me to help? Well, the cop said it might take a while to process my ticket. That's like an hour or two. Don't have that kind of time. I've got this fast, though highly conspicuous muscle car, so I can probably outrun them. But that might piss them off, and they'll send helicopters after me. But I can stop at an Army surplus store and buy some expensive night vision goggles, even though I'm broke and that would be far costlier than a speeding ticket. Plus all these stupid Midwest roads are long and straight, so there's not many places I can go. And even if I do make it to the hospital, I'm sure there will be tons of cops waiting for me and what good can I do my family if I'm sitting in prison? Maybe this isn't the best idea. Perhaps I should…ahh, screw it. LET'S ROLL!
Commence car chasing. Between the big chase scenes, and there are plenty of them, Jimmy rests at a few places including a Native American enclave and militia man's hideout. These pit stops, plus a myriad of flashback scenes, break up the motor mayhem and are inserted as character development. Whatever. This flick is about Viggo Mortensen driving fast. And if that's what you're interested in, then you should be satiated. Toward the end, the filmmakers try to transform Jimmy into the Patron Saint of Fighting Against the Man, but it's too hard a sell to resonate. He was a moron to get himself into this predicament in the first place.
Viggo is cool as the loner and all, though he needs to get rid of those dorky sunglasses, and Jason Priestley can't decide what accent to use with his radio guy. But the true stars of this flick are the cars. The action scenes are well done, and there's plenty of vehicular hijinks to go around, despite the Dodge's otherworldly gas mileage.
The film gets a bright, clean transfer, which does justice to some of the excellent visuals; a few Utah vistas are stunning. Too bad we have to see it all in full frame. A nice and loud, fairly aggressive Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix brings the roaring exhaust to life, and sounds decent when filtered through Dolby Pro Logic II.
If you enjoy lots of cars chasing each other around, you might get a kick out of Vanishing Point. When the film is pressed into more dramatic service, well, the proceedings sputter—eventually, the overwrought drama and the dopey premise siphon the fun out of the movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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