Black Cadillac

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/17/05 16:02:12

"Yes, it's a rip-off. But it's still fun."
3 stars (Just Average)

“Black Cadillac” is little more than a low rent, backwoods “Duel.” And yet it works. It manages to balance story and thrills will a surprisingly amount of ease. Better still, it’s even able to provide us with believable characters - something thrillers, especially those of the B variety, rarely do.

The film opens in some road house dive in Wisconsin, where loose ID checks and cheap beer get all the Minnesota boys to cross the state line. And so college boy Scott (Shane Johnson), hardass buddy C.J. (Josh Hammond), and little bro Robby (Jason Dohring) are living it up at this dive, finding chicks, getting drunk, the usual. A barroom brawl leaves them speeding their way back home, the cold, quiet night leaving them little else to do but talk about sex, college, sex, beer, and sex.

I found myself impressed by the way screenwriter Will Aldis and director John Murlowski (whose own backwoods experiences, he claims, inspired the story) handled these boys. A typical thriller would rush through these opening scenes, barely bothering to establish the characters before piling on the goods. Here, however, things run, well, not at a slower pace, as that would make it seem lifeless, but at its own speed. The filmmakers want us to be comfortable with these kids, comfortable with the idea of spending an hour and half in a car with them.

And we are. I liked the way these guys talked - like real guys. Robby’s enthusiasm for discussing his first sexual encounter, Scott’s why’d-I-have-to-drag-my-little-brother-along attitude… these feel like actual people, something I was not expected to find in such a project.

By spending a little quality time with these kids, we’re allowed to settle in a bit before the plot gets all crazy on us. For starters, the boys pick up a state trooper (Randy Quaid) whose car just froze over and needs a lift; Quaid’s oddball style works perfectly here, as his carefree boys-will-be-boys attitude toward the guys’ partying comes off as too strange. Where’s this story taking us?

It takes us to the car of the title, a wicked, growling beast that begins to chase our boys through the backroads of Wisconsin. Again, where’s this headed?

For its low budget, “Black Cadillac” is quite capable of whipping up some effective thrills. Yes, we’ve seen such material before (and not just in “Duel,” but in every evil car movie that followed it), and yet here we don’t mind. The cast - especially Quaid, who’s a hoot to watch in action here - keeps the story plowing forward at breakneck speed, while Murlowski is able to hide all the low budget seams, dragging the film ahead with a firm grasp on the notions of rhythm and mood. (It’s hard to believe that this is the same Murlowski who’s spent a career pumping out fourth-rate direct-to-video duds. Here, somehow, he shows a knack for fast filmmaking that’s been sorely lacking in his other efforts.)

The film derails in the final act, as the dark mystery of the car gets revealed to be quite the letdown. Granted, after so much energy was spent building up the anonymity of the Caddy, I doubt any reveal would have been satisfying. But this one feels like the filmmakers were struggling for a solution, so they just grabbed the first one available to them, leaving the movie on too much of a flat note. (Also, the script begins to give a bit too much importance to a “mystery” surrounding C.J.’s scar. It’s one piece of character development that doesn’t quite click.)

That said, the rest of the film is sufficiently capable of entertainment that it becomes immune to the clunky finale. This is solid B work, a quick bite of thrills that gratifies. The tension is fierce, the action sequences plenty exciting. It doesn’t measure up to its influences, to be sure, but on its own, it stands as a nifty, doable chase picture that’s good for a nice rental.

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