While his name may not get mentioned much these days, Dennis Weaver is very sorely missed for the 83 minutes of “Wrecker.” This low-budget ripoff of Spielberg’s breakout 1971 TV movie, “Duel,” replaces the folky late actor’s Everyman with two “hottie” twits similarly menaced by an aggressive, mysterious big-rig driver on a cross-country trip. It’s not just the protagonists who’ve suffered brain-cell shrinkage, either, in a cheesy chase film that substitutes shrill, increasingly laughable hysteria for actual thrills. Rather inexplicably granted a Stateside theatrical launch by XLrator (albeit just at Los Angeles’ Arena Cinema, starting this Friday), the latest B-pic from Canuxploitation regular Micheal Bafaro will surely travel farther in home formats.
After a brief prologue involving an older couple whose car has stalled out on a rural road — presumably leading to their doom — we meet our two twentysomething heroines, and immediately wish we hadn’t. Leslie (Drea Whitburn) is an annoying wild child prone to pounding libations from open receptacles and otherwise risking arrest or an accident as she rides shotgun in the cherry-red Mustang of bestie Emily (Anna Hutchison), whose main personality traits consist of being blonde and less obnoxious. (Although once the film’s histrionic burden shifts to her, you could argue against that latter attribute.)
They are ostensibly headed from Seattle to a party weekend in Palm Springs, partly to salve Emily’s wounds from maybe kinda-sorta being cheated on. Why didn’t they fly? Why do they appear to be mostly on mountainous backroads? These are the kinds of questions “Wrecker’s” screenplay hopes you won’t ask, as it has plenty more basic-credibility gaps in store.
On one such desolate stretch, ominously named “Devil’s Pass,” they find themselves stuck behind an exhaust-spewing tow truck with the aforementioned couple’s vehicle attached (but the couple nowhere in sight). Tempers flare before the ladies are able to leave their unseen road-hog nemesis in the dust. But of course, he (presumably a “he” — all we know is that the driver has Satanic symbols hanging on the dashboard where fuzzy dice would normally be) soon turns up to harass them anew with increasingly life-threatening maneuvers. Pit stops at a diner and a couple of gas stations only heighten our protags’ fear, as does the inevitable lack of cell-phone reception.
At about the midpoint the principal characters are separated, and the pic becomes an unflattering one-woman show in which writer-helmer Bafaro provides very little protection for, or distraction from, a performance that only grows sillier as the emergencies escalate. Weirdly, for a movie with such a stripped-down (if borrowed) conceit that should consist of 90% action, “Wrecker” delivers very little of what fans might expect. Not only are the plot twists few and feeble, but there’s practically nothing in the way of exciting stunt work, with way too many cheating cutaways.
While it may be unfair to expect Bafaro to deliver the sort of kinetic intensity the 25-year-old Spielberg demonstrated in choreographing two vehicles’ “Duel” (which was sharply supported by Richard Matheson’s economical screenplay), the former shows scant aptitude for chase suspense in general. Nor is the elusive villain lent any special mystery or menace. While some weak elements can be partly excused by budgetary limits, there’s no explaining why the pic declines to deliver the exploitation basics of violence — even a discovered corpse is kept off-screen, with only the discoverer’s shocked expression shown — or T&A, particularly since the principal female characters are drawn in terms shallow enough for the most misogynist slasher flick. (If it were rated, “Wrecker” would earn an R solely for numerous F-bombs dropped.) Capping it all is a particularly lame “the terror continues!” coda.
Tech/design contributions for this British Columbia-shot production are uninspired at best.