Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Paul Walker reprises his role as a fast driving, cop-eluding tough guy type—yes, ‘reprises’, because his character in ‘Vehicle 19’ is little more than a spin-off of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ series. And if you thought the plot was weak in the latter, ‘Vehicle 19’ runs on under-inflated tyres. And runs out of fuel halfway too.
The movie opens with a police chase going the wrong way in traffic, in what looks like promising non-linear storytelling with some nail-biting suspense thrown in. But promises are not fulfilled.
Walker plays Michael Woods, a bumbling character who stumbles through more than just his life, a recovering alcoholic and ex-convict visiting Johannesburg in an attempt to make amends with his estranged ex-wife, and who then unwittingly gets involved in a whirlwind of wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time events.
Arriving in Johannesburg after a rough flight from the United States, he realises the car rental company has given him a vehicle other than one he hired. This unexpected ‘upgrade’ soon turns out to be the beginning of a nightmarish ‘Banged Up Abroad’ episode, as he soon also discovers ‘extras’ thrown in with the vehicle, like an automatic weapon under the seat and a woman tied up in the boot.
We quickly learn that our tragic hero is caught up in a sinister scheme, one that is intended to silence a journalist (the bound and gagged woman in the vehicle) for trying to expose a vast human trafficking conspiracy that can be traced to the corrupt chief of police in Johannesburg.
The premise somewhat established, and with what should be fodder for at least an entertaining if not coherent plot, South African director and scriptwriter Mukunda Michael Dewil then chooses to let you be a passenger in a claustrophobic and nauseating ride with a reckless driver at the wheel.
‘Vehicle 19’ powers off the start line and does not stop to let you catch your breath. Or pause to let logic and common sense to catch up. Spending almost the entire duration of the movie driving at breakneck speed, the unlucky but plucky Woods finds himself on an insane road trip with several ‘drive-thrus’, for example, tearing through a supermarket isle.
We get what Dewil is trying to achieve; it is a laudable effort but to make an idea like this work, you need at least two things: styling that has some kind of finesse, and an actor that can do more than just drive with wide-eyed bewilderment.
It is convenient to extract Paul Walker from the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, put him behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle with the slightest excuse of a plot, and call it a thriller. By the same reasoning, many adult videos would qualify as drama.