Crisp, tightly edited action and believably written, well-thesped relationships among middle-class teens being chased by a mysterious car through redneck country elevate "Black Cadillac" beyond its derivative plot. Absence of bankable stars make theatrical release a long-shot, though cable and homevid exposure could generate cult following.

Crisp, tightly edited action and believably written, well-thesped relationships among middle-class teens being chased by a mysterious car through redneck country elevate “Black Cadillac” beyond its derivative plot. Absence of bankable stars — save for Randy Quaid as an ominously friendly backwoods sheriff — make theatrical release a long-shot, though cable and homevid exposure could generate cult following for this modest but nifty actioner.

Ivy League Scott (Shane Johnson), naive younger brother Robby (Jason Dohring) and cocky buddy CJ (Josh Hammond), are looking for kicks on the eve of CJ’s departure on a tramp steamer. When CJ’s smart-ass remarks land the kids in the middle of a barroom brawl, Scott’s surprising pugilistic skill saves the day — though he has to be dragged off the opponent he has ruthlessly beaten. Shortly thereafter, a ’57 El Dorado begins to dog their trail, leading to some fancy automobile balletics on ice.

Ultimately, the mystery of who’s behind the wheel of the menacing Caddy becomes less important than the slow-dawning revelation that clean-cut Scott may pose more of a threat to their survival.

Based on a true story from the director’s youth, it’s notable that Murlowski, who spent years helming cookie-cutter entries in big studio franchises (“Amityville: A New Generation,” “Richie Rich II”), should go indie with a personal project that plays more like “Breakdown” or “Joy Ride” than autobiography.

Tech credits are excellent. Steven Douglas Smith’s lensing makes the most of the darkness, while John Gilbert’s multi-angled editing revs up the tension.

Black Cadillac

Production

An Artists View Entertainment presentation of a Painting Entertainment production. Produced by John Murlowski, Kenneth Burke, Steven Douglas Smith. Co-producers, Miriam Flynn, John Lind. Directed by John Murlowski. Screenplay, Will Aldis, from a story by Murlowski.

Crew

Camera (color), Smith; editor, John Gilbert; music/sound designer, Chris Bell; production designer, Peggy Paola, costume designer, Kevin Ian Ackerman; sound (Dolby), Eric Enroth. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Midnight), April 21, 2003. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Randy Quaid, Shane Johnson, Josh Hammond, Jason Dohring, Keirstan Warren.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more