By Ric Bagoly
First off, any film that takes a strong influence from Walter Hill’s Warriors definitely has a good thing going on. With the aid of the outstanding cinematography and production design, Stephen Hopkins succeeds in making a “wrong turn” off the freeway become an entrance into an inner-city hell, almost like it’s a world all its own. Hopkins sets the mood perfectly with the opening shots, employing slow motion to show the suburban paradise that the film’s protagonists reside in, before they make their fateful journey.
Also helping things along is Denis Leary as the villainous Fallon, easily the best role he has ever had in a film: Hopkins wisely keeps the rat-a-tat-tat speech mannerisms (which have marred so many of his other roles) of Leary’s standup persona in check, yet still keeps him humorous with a series of sinister one-liners, funny yet still menacing. It’s also nice to see Peter “Zed” Greene as one of his henchmen, getting in a couple of good bits of his own.
The film’s problems arise with the plausibility of the plot as well as the character development of the main roles. We are told Fallon has his stringent set of rules which include “no witnesses”, however if he and his men had just taken their intended target to a discreet location to finish him off, instead of just capping him out in the open in front of the guys in the RV, he could’ve saved himself a lot of trouble (and thus we’d have no movie). Indeed, throughout their relentless pursuit, they encounter many other people and literally tear that part of the city apart, thus creating many other witnesses and loose ends that go unchecked, even though it’s explained that the cops “never” respond in the area when a situation is at hand, especially after the RV goes up in a huge explosion.
The pursued characters are also poorly explored: the Gooding and Dorff characters fail to make much of an impression, and as for Estevez, even while we’re constantly reminded of how he had the “biggest balls” of anyone around, we’re never given specifics as to his past exploits to make us think he could fend for himself given the odds he’s facing. Indeed, the most interesting of the quartet is the ill-fated Jeremy Piven character, whose acquisition of the RV involved conning the dealer and who ultimately and tragically believes he can talk and scam his way out of anything (a type that’s becoming all too common in our current economic times) with the film’s acting highlight showing him using all his skills to try to strike an accord with Leary, who is street-smart enough to see thru his bullshit.
Also, while the first 20 to 25 minutes take a while to get going (especially on repeat viewings), the pace is pretty brisk most of the way here where, as with Hill’s earlier masterpiece, we follow this group of characters as they are constantly pursued thru the inner-city, just trying to make it home. Unfortunately the climax in a grocery store is a little too drawn-out, as Estevez continually plays hide and seek with Leary before their final battle. In the end, an entertaining piece of work with a near-standout Leary turn, that could have benefitted from a little better writing…