Aphysically bracing, generic woman-in-peril movie, “River of Rage: The Taking of Maggie Keene” is a popcorn-flavored suspenser primed by a gritty war of wills between the chased (Victoria Principal) and the pursuer (Peter Onorati).
Principal, as an adventurous single mom on a white-water rafting trip with her latest boyfriend (David Beecroft), is the classic figure of urban chic helplessly hurled into an endurance test with nasty mother nature — in this case, a brutal life-and-death struggle with a madman along the craggy Rio Grande.
While the script pushes all the standard responses for the hunt-and-run genre , writer Michael Norell creates an appealing, iconoclastic heroine locked into an amusing nicotine habit. Principal is the image of grit plunging into the churning waters of the Rio Grande or scratching an escape route over the river’s cliffs and rocks.
But what salvages the production is Onorati’s bad guy with the mean bow and arrow and four-wheeler by way of “Mad Max.”
With charisma to spare, Onorati works in the tradition of mesmerizing psychos who have read too much literature: this one spouting Shakespeare, Keats and William Blake’s “tiger, tiger burning bright” shortly after cold-bloodedly gunning down members of Principal’s rafting party.
Contributing to the surreal atmosphere are a couple of desert rats etched by Sal Lopez and the ever-resourceful John Fleck who as an actor manages to survive an obligatory, mercifully aborted rape attempt on Principal.
Meanwhile, the agitated folks back home left to mount a sheriff’s helicopter rescue party are, refreshingly, not adults but fetching kids (teen actors Sean Murray and Ari Meyers.)
Producer-director Robert Iscove maintains momentum and Principal’s inevitable showdown with Onorati’s playfully chilling stalker is tightly staged (notwithstanding the killer’s sudden psychological childhood gibberish that’s supposed to lay to rest his twisted mind).