HighwaymenReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/14/04 13:44:18
There’s a whole world of stupid out there, and taking up a large chunk of real estate is “Highwaymen,” a thriller so mind-blowingly asinine that it must be seen to be believed. It’s a movie built entirely around a high concept that just doesn’t work, and any effort to force it to, including extra-sincere performances and an extra-gritty directorial style, only makes it all the more sillier. If you’re looking for a long, solid laugh, “Highwaymen” will do the trick.The film stars Jim Caveziel, whom I once named the Most Boring Actor In Hollywood due to his complete and utter lack of charisma and the fact that he always looks like he just woke up and can’t find the alarm clock. Nowadays, thanks to a certain religious blockbuster, I call him either Jesus H. Christ, Boring Jesus, or, if I have the space, The Guy Who Got Struck By Lightning Twice Because God Didn’t Like the Idea of That Ass-Hat From “Angel Eyes” Playing His Son. It’s a bit lengthy a nickname, though, and besides, I’m not sure if the word “ass-hat” is in the Bible.
But anyway. Mr. Personality plays Rennie, a bitter, silent type whose wife was murdered five years back by a serial hit-and-run killer. He now spends his days cruising the country on the hunt for the killer, and I can see this turning into some “Renegade”-ish TV series, with Rennie stopping in a new town every week to solve a murder or help some housewife protect her family from the local night club owner and his gang of thugs or teach some kids to stay in school and keep off the dope.
For the time being, however, it’s strictly a matter of Rennie chasing down the killer, who drives a souped-up 1972 lime green El Dorado with one headlight burned out. The killer, who spends the first half of the film unseen in a limp “homage” (read: rip-off) of “Duel,” has recently paused to cause a massive pile-up in some highway tunnel, where he then toys with the survivors by running them down one by one. Only - yes - he left one survivor behind, but he took her picture, and surely he’ll be able to track her down and finish the job!
The survivor is Molly (Rhona Mitra), who inexplicably teams up with Rennie after he confronts her at a group therapy meeting. “Need a lift?” he asks. She declines, thinking it’s a sexual advance. “I didn’t say we’d enjoy ourselves,” he adds. Her reply: “You promise?” And off they ride. Whee!!
It’s here we discover the backstory of Rennie and the killer, who is named Fargo and played by Colm Feore. Through narration and flashback, the movie trumps itself with this glorious pile of dumb: Fargo was an insurance adjuster whose father once forced him to leer at pictures of bloody auto accidents. His job not enough to sate his thirst for violence, he became a serial hit-and-run killer. Which leads him to Rennie, who, instead of mourning the death of his wife or calling for an ambulance following the murder, instead leaps into his car and begins a massive crosstown chase. Rennie sideswipes Fargo; Rennie goes to prison for three years; Fargo gets out of the hospital, held together by a tangle of metal braces; Fargo starts sending taunting newspaper clippings of his latest kills to Rennie.
I swear, the only way this movie could get any dumber is to have a gritty renegade traffic investigator show up.
At this point in the plot, Frankie Faison shows up as Mackin, a gritty renegade traffic investigator.
Grizzled and bitter in a Morgan Freeman-in-”Seven” kind of way, Macklin is hot on the case of the loony driver and the loonier guy chasing him. “I don’t carry a gun,” Macklin laments, “just some measuring tape and pencils.” He doesn’t say it, but I’d bet good money that Macklin is only days away from retirement and is also perhaps too old for this shit.
If all of this is not enough to seal the movie as one of the all-time examples of Bad Movie idiocy, allow me to detail the clincher. Fargo’s in a motorized wheelchair, you see, and after one exceptionally dull car chase, we find the villain chugging along on the open road, ready to grab Molly and do villainous deeds. Rennie, meanwhile, has just come to and is trying to start his car via the Movie Thriller Method, which is to flood the engine until it finally starts at the last minute. Fargo, realizing he’s vulnerable, races to get back to his car.
So this is what the movie comes down to: a nailbiter to see if Jim Caviezel can start his car before a guy in a wheelchair can coast away at a cool two miles per hour. With suspense-enhancing music blaring and earnest overacting, too boot.
It’s at times like these that I’m reminded that somebody, somewhere, thought that this movie was worth the time, money, and energy required to make a feature film. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
That somebody is Robert Harmon, who long ago directed the crafty thriller “The Hitcher” and recently topped it with “They,” one of the best (and most overlooked) horror flicks of the past few years. Why he picked “Highwaymen” - written by Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer, whose last team-up was the direct-to-video junker “Komodo” (Bauer also penned “Anaconda,” you’re welcome) - as his follow-up is debatable, although I’m guessing he was attracted to the similarities between it and “Hitcher.” (The film also openly steals from “Duel,” as mentioned earlier, as well as “Christine,” “Breakdown,” and “Joy Ride,” among others.) But no amount of enthusiastic direction can save this embarrassment of a screenplay; in fact, the sincerity of the director and of the cast only works to make the film worse. You can’t believe anyone would take such brainless material so seriously, but yup, they did, and you can’t help but laugh.And while “Highwaymen” is a terrible, horrible, pathetic thriller, it’s also one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in some time. This is a movie that goes well beyond bad, even beyond Bad with a capital B. “Highwaymen” exists in that glorious other dimension of cinematic junk, a prize jewel in the crown of unintentionally funny failures. Anyone wanting to laugh at a movie gone wonderfully, dreadfully wrong now has a new favorite crapsterpiece to admire.
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