Abetter telepic than its dopey title indicates, NBC’s “Road Rage” is a surprisingly effective thriller that doesn’t stray too much beyond its limitations. Though strapped with an unlikely scenario and some pretty big coincidences, the narrative builds nicely, tension runs high and there’s plenty of go-get-’em attitude lining every confrontation. Those who detest their commute will be pumped up with revenge, and anyone who hates psychotic truckers (is there any other kind?) will also root loudly.
Viewers actually get two-for-one here, since “Road Rage” focuses on both the moment at which motorists flip out and the methods one will apply to get even. As the unwitting prey of a man-turned-mental case, Yasmine Bleeth is solid, and the story’s approach benefits from a timely issue.
Ellen Carson (Bleeth) is a real-estate agent with a hunky husband, Jim (John Wesley Shipp), and a sulky stepdaughter, Cynthia (Alana Austin). While chatting it up on her cell phone and trying to make a highway exit on a rainy day, she inadvertently cuts off Eddie Madden (Jere Burns), a beverage deliveryman whose wife and daughter were killed six months ago by a reckless driver. Miffed and still in shock, he chases Ellen until she gets the point: She ticked off the wrong guy.
After Ellen calls his employer to complain, Eddie is fired and decides to dedicate his life to making her world miserable. The plot then switches gears into stalking mode as Eddie terrorizes the family at every opportunity. He breaks into their home, seduces Cynthia, causes “accidents” at Jim’s construction sites and creates new identities that will throw off the cops. Things get really wacky when he starts fantasizing about Ellen as a potential sweetie. Think “Cape Fear” with commercial breaks.
Certainly not a flawless thesp but good enough here as a flustered femme, Bleeth is sympathetic while trying her best to play victim. She’s matched by Burns, whose cold eyes, jutting chin and sleazy goatee make for a very creepy and convincing maniac.
Just as potent is Deran Serafian’s direction. So many made-fors do what they can to put trash and flash above the content, but here, the reliance on pacing and lack of meaningless violence is appreciated. Scenes take their time, with more energy spent on emotional jolts than in-your-face action.
What doesn’t work is the oversimplified screenplay by David Taylor and James Manos Jr.; the characters often say and do things that most traumatized people wouldn’t really say or do. Rule No. 1: If a lunatic is following you, don’t go to large, empty houses alone.
Tech credits are strong, though the abundance of zoom-ins on ringing telephones gets annoying.