Vehicular Review Roundup

Get in Vehicle 19 to go for a Drive with The Driver in today’s roundup, featuring:

  • The Driver (1978)
  • Drive (2011)
  • Vehicle 19 (2013)

    The Driver

    2017 #101
    Walter Hill | 92 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA & UK / English | 15 / PG

    The Driver

    Walter Hill’s stripped-back neo-noir car chase thriller stars Ryan O’Neal as The Driver, a getaway man for hire and the best at what he does. Out to get him is Bruce Dern as The Detective, who’ll go to any lengths to catch him — including illegal ones. Almost cornered, the Driver enlists the help of The Player (Isabelle Adjani) to thwart the Detective.

    The film’s influence on the likes of Baby Driver and Drive is clear (Nicolas Winding Refn claims not to have seen it before making his film, but it must’ve been seen by someone somewhere down the line, whether that’s original novelist James Sallis or screenwriter Hossein Amini, because the DNA is right there). Both those later efforts burnished and perfected the formula in different ways, but the original has a gritty, low-rent charm of its own. The archetypal characters and straightforward noir plot are delightful almost because of their simplicity, while the few action scenes are handled with the panache, not of a slick blockbuster, but of a filmmaker who knows how to create something effective even within his limitations.

    The Driver maybe doesn’t transcend those to the level of being a classic, but, for fans of the genres it crosses, it’s deservingly a cult favourite.

    4 out of 5


    2017 #106
    Nicolas Winding Refn | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R


    Iconoclastic Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had made noteworthy films before Drive, but it felt like this was where he really hit home. It stars Ryan Gosling as a mechanic and part-time movie stunt driver who also moonlights as a getaway man, but when he tries to help out his attractive neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her husband (Oscar Isaac) he gets embroiled in a crime with deadly consequences.

    It’s a noir storyline with a familiar shape, but as with many of the best examples of that not-quite-a-genre it’s the stylish filmmaking that elevates the material. Refn was influenced by the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville and Sergio Leone to take a very American genre and give it a European influence, and the result is a movie that’s as much about its mood and feel as it is the intricacies of plot or character. Despite the title and theme it’s not even a car chase movie, really, though the handful of well-created driving sequences do pack a greater punch thanks to their scarcity.

    5 out of 5

    Drive was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2017 project.

    Vehicle 19

    2017 #151
    Mukunda Michael Dewil | 82 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / R

    Vehicle 19

    One of the last films Paul Walker completed before his untimely death, Vehicle 19 sees the Fast & Furious star doing what he will always be remembered for: driving a car, sometimes fast. Here he’s Michael Woods, a recent parolee who arrives in Johannesburg intending to reunite with his partner. Unfortunately he picks up the wrong rental car and finds himself the subject of a manhunt, because in the car is evidence relating to a political conspiracy. Unfortunately for the bad guys who want said evidence, Michael is, like, an honourable chap — and also a criminal, so he totally knows how to drive a car like he’s escaping a crime. The main conceit is: the whole film’s shot from within the car.

    Yep, that’s why I watched it. I wish I hadn’t. Vehicle 19 is a deeply stupid movie. Like, Michael’s phone is all-important — it’s the only way he can contact other people; later, it contains vital evidence — but when he notices the battery is low he does nothing about it, despite having a charger in his bag, until the battery literally runs out mid-call. And that’s just one of innumerable nonsensical contrivances throughout the film.

    It lacks pace, and therefore lacks tension. Michael just pootles around the city from the very start. Apparently everywhere is reachable within 20 minutes, or Michael — who’s never been to this city before — thinks it is. Whenever he asks for directions, everywhere he’s going is either just a block away or down the road, third right. At one point the police say they just received a call to 911. From what I can tell, the emergency number in South Africa is not 911. And I could probably go on — the film is absolutely littered with things that just don’t quite hang together.

    Fast and/or furious

    It can’t satisfy as a dumb action flick either. I presume it was a low-budget production with ambitions beyond its scale in the chase scenes. Understandably, the trailer foregrounds these to help sell the movie. Unfortunately for the film, it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch: the clips in the trailer are near-as-dammit the entirety of the film’s action. These sequences are few, far between, short, and, even then, poorly staged. The problem isn’t that they’re all limited to only being seen from within the car (the opening sequence of The Driver does exactly that to marvellous effect, for example), it’s that they lack both adrenaline and plausibility. For example, at one point Michael manages to make the chasing car flip over, but I watched that bit three times to try to decipher it and I still have absolutely no idea how he’s supposed to have done it. Oh, and then the car explodes. And Michael and his passenger seem to react like “oh, that’s that then” and just drive on.

    They’ve got the right idea, though: if you’re thinking of watching Vehicle 19, no, just drive on. Or just put Drive on — it’s a totally different movie, but at least it’s a good one.

    1 out of 5

    Vehicle 19 featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

  • Bullet to the Head (2012)

    2015 #70
    Walter Hill | 88 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Bullet to the HeadI had absolutely zero intention of ever watching this Sylvester Stallone vehicle (which is not to be confused with John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, of course), but then I saw a trailer on a Blu-ray and it looked like it might be funny and passable dumb-action fun. My respect to whoever edited that trailer, because neither of those elements are significant features of the full film.

    Adapted from a French graphic novel (no, really — it’s called Du plomb dans la tête), the story casts Stallone as a hitman whose partner is killed by order of their employer, which is what brings him into contact with cop Kwon (the Fast & Furiouses’s Sung Kang), whose former partner was also killed by the same chap. (Actually, he was killed by Stallone; and they weren’t partners any more because the guy went corrupt, or something. My point is, the partners parallel is an angle that gets pithily highlighted in marketing and reviews, but is barely touched in the film itself.) Reluctantly teaming up, they set out to find out who’s behind it all.

    At times, you get the impression that director Walter Hill (who also performed uncredited re-writes) wants this to be a noir tale: there’s a hardboiled voiceover, a story mired in corrupt officials, twists about who to trust, and so on. But these elements are only fleeting (including that voiceover), never building a consistency where you could plausibly claim it as any kind of neo-noir. Instead, it’s more of a buddy movie in the ’80s mould. There are multiple scenes of Stallone and his new chum just driving around chatting, often in a gently racist way, all of which is clearly striving for that amusing, loveable, buddy movie vibe. It doesn’t reach it — it’s not funny, or likeable, and it just feels like a shoehorned aside from the plot.

    AxefightSaid plot all comes down to a final fight, Stallone vs Jason Momoa (of Game of Thrones and the Conan reboot), who’s technically the henchman but serves as the primary antagonist. In the film’s closest move to originality, they duel with fire axes. It’s a fairly worthwhile dose of combat, if you enjoy that kind of thing, but even then isn’t worth watching the whole film for.

    It comes to something when your production logos gimmick is the most interesting thing about your movie, but Hill has even bluntly stated in an interview that “we’re not breaking new ground. We’re trying to be entertaining within a format that’s familiar.” Talk about setting your sights low! And, indeed, low is all they achieved.

    2 out of 5

    Bullet to the Head is on Film4 tomorrow at 9pm.