Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vanishing Point: What Makes a Hero?


Sometimes the best you can say about a movie is that it's like a mini travelogue of someplace, in this case parts of the Nevada desert. Reminds me of a road trip I took not so long ago to an opal mine just outside Nevada. For miles, no other cars from one end of the horizon to the other. And I couldn't help but notice all these desert squirrels out there, waiting for their chance to cross the road, and always deciding to go as I'm about to run them over. There's gotta be some kind of Darwinian law at work there. Maybe a Newtonian maxim. Maybe an Oprah essay about co-dependence, I don't know.

There's also some nice shots of clouds here: some thunderheads, some raining, some with rays of sunlight peeking through - there's a specific scientific term for that but I can't remember what it is. All in all, good cloud variety, and not a whole lot of need for continuity since the action keeps moving. As for the plot of Vanishing Point, there's about as much plot here as, say, Grand Theft Auto. A little more plausibility than the original Gone in 60 Seconds, but it seems to me that if you're transporting cars, stolen or not, you at least want to make sure they get as little wear and tear as possible, but the film's about a little more character development than that. That, and a modern day Lady Godiva on a motorcycle. Why not, I say.

There are flashbacks showing the big transforming events in the life of this transporting car man, played by Barry Newman. Okay, so he's not a big name. He's no Paul Newman, anyhow, but he does okay here and he's also one of those guys who looks totally different as a young man. Kinda like William Hickey, only not so extreme. Barry stuck with me after I saw him in The Limey, and to a lesser extent, Bowfinger; smaller role in that one. But both with Terence Stamp! Who worked that out?

What else to say about this? Cleavon Little in a pre-Blazing Saddles role, where he seems to channel Ray Charles as the blind DJ "Super Soul" of KOW Radio. Also our hero picks up a coupla gay hitchhikers who end up trying to pull a stick-up, but since they're blatant caricatures what happens to them is okay. Some might say they were let off too easy; not me, though, because that's what a Movie Hero does, treats his adversaries with respect. Indeed, all the adversaries our hero comes across, he doubles back to make sure they're okay (they all get out of their wrecked cars and scratch their heads; time to get moving again!) There's also some blatant folk-hero-ification at play here, you know, for the Oscar crowd, (someone adds an "ALSKI" banner to the KOW radio sign... Mission Accomplished!) but if it didn't pay off with the car man's final act, well... I guess it didn't pay off. But it's certainly the opposite of the happy endings of Gone in 60 Seconds or Grand Theft Auto.

Some say Vanishing Point is one of the greatest car chase movies ever made, and the only reason I saw it was it being referenced in a review of Grindhouse (Yes! I shamefully admit it...) For me, though, I guess a car chase movie needs a little more plot. For me The Blues Brothers is still the best car chase movie; for cars of a similar time period, Mad Mad World's got some pretty decent stunts: car, plane or otherwise. Give it a second look if you've got about 3 hours to kill.


**1/2

so sayeth the Movie Review Hooligan

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