You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Vehicle 19’

It may star Paul Walker, but this mostly preposterous high-concept clunker is neither fast nor furious.

Paul Walker, Naima McLean, Gys de Villiers, Leyla Haidarian, Tshepo Maseko, Andrian Mazive, Wellie Nzuza, Mangaliso Ngema. (English dialogue)

The venerable “from hell” movie subgenre (e.g., nanny from hell, secretary from hell) picks up an unlikely addition — the rental car from hell — in “Vehicle 19,” a South African-made B-grade quickie looking to cash in on a time-tested combination of elements: Paul Walker and mass automotive mayhem. Neither particularly fast nor furious, this mostly preposterous high-concept clunker (which feels padded even at barely 80 minutes sans credits) makes a pit stop in a handful of North American theaters this week en route to a July 23 homevid debut.

Vehicle 19” turns on the modest novelty that, once Walker’s Michael Woods enters the titular Hertz minivan in the pic’s opening scene, he never leaves. Nor does director Mukunda Michael Dewil’s camera, making this something like the “Cosmopolis” of car-chase movies, though Dewil (a veteran commercials helmer) proves less adept than David Cronenberg at continually reinventing his claustrophobic locale. Instead, he mostly slams the camera so close to his star’s face that we can practically count the pieces of stubble.

Woods has traveled to Johannesburg, breaking his parole in the process, to attempt a reconciliation with his ex-wife (Leyla Haidarian), an embassy employee. A brief phone call between the two early on suggests a fraught backstory, including not only Michael’s prison sentence, but a history of alcoholism and a generally high aptitude for bad decision making. Then another phone — a Blackberry stashed in the minivan’s glovebox — starts spewing forth cryptic messages about some kind of an assignment. And when Michael reaches under the driver’s seat, it’s not an empty Cheetos bag he finds there, but rather a handgun complete with silencer. By which point, it’s obvious he got some kind of upgrade at the rental counter he definitely didn’t ask for.

Popular on Variety

“Vehicle 19” plays rather fast and loose with logic from there. Taking a page from the Larry Cohen-scripted “Phone Booth” and “Cellular,” the pic’s first act has Michael receiving orders from a mysterious voice at the other end of that Blackberry, a Joburg detective (Gys de Villiers) who claims Michael has accidentally stumbled into an undercover police sting and needs to swap out his car immediately. But news reports and flyers concerning the recent disappearance of a federal prosecutor suggest that something else is afoot — a suspicion concerned when Michael stops short and said prosecutor (Naima McLean) tumbles, bound and gagged, from the trunk into his backseat.

Dewil (who also scripted) is clearly a fan of such classic wronged-man noirs as “D.O.A.” and “The 39 Steps,” which “Vehicle 19” echoes in spirit if not in narrative or visual craftsmanship. The screenplay labors to convince us that Michael has nowhere to turn — not even to his own ex-wife — because the police can’t be trusted and his own criminal record tarnishes his credibility. Meanwhile, Rachel the prosecutor says there’s only one judge in the whole country she trusts with her testimony — a judge who, conveniently for most of the pic’s running time, proves unreachable by phone until the very moment that Michael’s battery is dying.

None of it is especially convincing, though you wouldn’t have as much time to study the plot holes if “Vehicle 19” were more of a taut, race-against-the-clock thriller. But Dewil opts for a moodier touch, perhaps reaching for the existential vibe of a “Two Lane Blacktop” or “Drive,” with Michael occasionally putting pedal to the metal, but just as often looping around aimlessly, plotting his next move. In one needless longueur, he hits up some roadside graffiti artists to give his ride a new paint job; in another, at what should arguably be the pic’s height of dramatic tension, he ducks the authorities in what seems like the world’s slowest car wash.

That the movie manages to stay even modestly involving is a testament to Walker, who’s never going to win awards for his acting, but who has grown into a more comfortable, charismatic screen presence over time, especially as his once-gleaming baby-faced looks have given way to a weary, leathery gruffness.

Pic tries but never quite succeeds at concealing its budgetary restrictions, particularly in some conspicuously low-res CG effects that appear during Michael’s climactic race to the steps of the Joburg courthouse.

Film Review: 'Vehicle 19’

Reviewed on DVD, New York, June 13, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: (South Africa-U.S.) A Ketchup Entertainment release (in U.S.) of a Safran Company/Forefront Media Group presentation in association with The Industrial Development Corporation, K5 International, Skyline Motion Picture Fund and Picture Tree. Produced by Ryan Haidarian, Peter Safran. Executive producers, Paul Walker, Eddi Mbalo, Geoffrey Qhena, Basil Ford, Trishana Thevnarain, Gary King. 

Crew: Directed, written by Mukunda Michael Dewil. Camera (color, widescreen), Miles Goodall; editor, Megan Gill; music, James Matthes, Daniel Matthee; production designer, Sue Steele; art director, Andrew Kennedy; costume designer, Lynn Driver; sound (Dolby Digital), Ian Arrow; visual effects supervisor, Sam Alessandri; visual effects producer, Ancilla Berry; visual effects, Refinery; associate producer, Wayne Marc Godfrey; assistant director, Gaura Vani; stunt coordinator, Cordell McQueen, casting, Christa Schamberger.

With: Paul Walker, Naima McLean, Gys de Villiers, Leyla Haidarian, Tshepo Maseko, Andrian Mazive, Wellie Nzuza, Mangaliso Ngema. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    COLA Announces California On-Location Awards Winners

    “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Dolemite is My Name,” and HBO’s “Ballers” are among the winners of this year’s COLA awards. The COLAs recognize location managers, public employees and other professionals who help facilitate on-location production across the Golden State. This year’s awards program was held at the Universal Hilton. Finalists and winners are [...]

  • French movie director Jean Luc Godard

    How Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard Immortalized Each Other (Guest Column)

    With the passing of Anna Karina, a curtain has fallen on the French New Wave, that fabled cinematic movement that brought fame to the man who made her name, Jean-Luc Godard. Yes, Godard is still with us, as is “Breathless” star Jean-Paul Belmondo (practically the last of the living New Wave legends), but his moviemaking [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    Box Office: Clint Eastwood Suffers Worst Opening in Four Decades With 'Richard Jewell'

    Clint Eastwood might end up with a lump of box office coal after “Richard Jewell” sputtered in its domestic debut. Despite critical acclaim, Warner Bros.’ drama about the security guard falsely accused by the media for playing a part in the 1996 Olympics bombing ignited with a dismal $5 million from 2,502 theaters. It’s a [...]

  • (from left) Tom (Henry Golding) and

    Emilia Clarke's 'Last Christmas' Crosses $100 Million at Global Box Office

    Universal’s “Last Christmas,” a romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, surpassed $100 million in global ticket sales. The milestone is a win for original fare, one that is especially impressive considering the movie was skewered by critics for its wacky twist ending. After six weeks in theaters, “Last Christmas” has earned $34.4 million [...]

  • DSCF0855.RAF

    'Jumanji 2' Rules Overseas Box Office With $85 Million

    Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” powered international box office charts, collecting $85 million from 34 markets over the weekend. The action-packed sequel kicked off in North America with $60 million for a global start of $145 million. “Jumanji: The Next Level” debuted in a handful of foreign territories last weekend, bringing box office receipts to [...]

  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS:

    Disney Plus Signs Exclusive Distribution Deal With Canal Plus in France

    Ahead of its launch in France on March 31, 2020, Disney Plus has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Canal Plus Group, the country’s leading pay-TV company. The deal, which was first reported in the French newspaper Les Echos and confirmed by Canal Plus Group CEO Maxime Saada on his Twitter account, marks a new [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content