'Vehicle 19' features about 90 minutes of actor Paul Walker speeding in a car while frequently in a state of extreme agitation. In other words, he's literally fast and furious. While this recipe may have worked well enough in the past, after a solid start, this indie thriller mostly stalls out. There is some decent action and a marginal amount of excitement, but the script ends up steering the film in the wrong direction, and just narrowly avoids a truly fatal crash.
Due to a mix-up, Michael Woods (Paul Walker) ends up with the wrong rental car when he lands in South Africa. Desperate to reunite with his estranged wife, he accepts the mishap and speeds off -- but when he finds a mysterious cell phone, a loaded gun, and a tied up woman (Naima McLean) in the vehicle, he starts to reconsider his decision. Now caught in a dangerous conspiracy, Michael is forced to choose sides in a deadly race toward justice.
The setup is all extremely familiar but, to the film's credit, the first act is surprisingly engaging, effectively pulling the audience into the basic "wrong place, wrong time" scenario. All the pieces are laid out for a decent mystery and we're left wondering just what Michael has really gotten himself into. Unfortunately, the answers to all our questions prove to be rather disappointing, and the film's follow through ends up leaving a lot to be desired.
Normally I'd try hard to keep specific plot details to a minimum, but in this case that really shouldn't be difficult considering there doesn't actually end up being much plot. Once the main threat is revealed (pretty early on), the movie is essentially devoid of any further twists or developments, resulting in a distressingly thin and one-note thriller. Even worse, the characters are prone to many eye-rolling, poor decisions just for the sake of keeping the flimsy story going. Likewise, the impetus for all the action (in this case, an alleged sex trafficking ring) has no real direct connection to any of the action on screen, and though it's potential exposure serves as the primary motivation for our protagonists and villains, it's only mentioned briefly in passing and we learn nothing about it, making it hard to really care about the cause -- and it should be easy. I mean, it's sex trafficking!
Paul Walker carries us through the virtually nonexistent narrative, and though he really does seem to be giving it his all, his performance is very uneven and pedestrian. The actor basically alternates between three expressions: anger, confusion, and blue steel. This limited range leads to some borderline laughable moments where Walker's attempts at rage result in unintentionally silly faces and expressions. In his defense, however, he does spend the majority of the runtime acting all by his lonesome, with a cell phone as his only co-star, and that's a legitimately difficult acting task for anyone. Especially when the script calls for the poor guy to annoyingly talk to himself, spouting out irritating little verbal reminders like, "Stay out of trouble," almost as if the character was somehow expecting an audience to be watching him. And even when he does get a real life partner to play off of in the form of Naima McLean, their chemistry proves to be underwhelming. McLean herself does a decent job, but her character's arc is severely underwritten and rushed, and her acting does falter during a key dramatic moment that completely falls flat.
While the script and performances are iffy, writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil does occasionally deliver when it comes to visuals. One gets a sense that some of the vehicular mayhem on display here is limited by the film's modest budget, but there are a few decent set pieces (including a fun grocery store detour). With that said, the action can be a little clunky and these sequences are surprisingly few and far between. Still, the camera work and editing keep things interesting and kinetic, and Dewil takes full advantage of his single, mobile setting, creating a solid sense of momentum, variety, and appropriate claustrophobia with comparatively little to work with. Through the contained car setting, we're almost always moving and this helps to give even exposition heavy sequences a palpable level of urgency and danger. The visual excitement is diminished by the lackluster scripting, mind you, but from a purely visceral perspective, the director brings a sporadic sense of gritty tension to the proceedings.
For a movie that basically consists of Paul Walker stuck in a minivan for the entire runtime, 'Vehicle 19' actually has some momentary thrills. Unfortunately, these fleeting bright spots are mashed up in between longer stretches of stupidity and mediocrity. Derivative and exceedingly simplistic, the script lacks interesting plot twists or characters, and though the actors try, the performances are unengaging. Paul Walker may technically still be "fast and furious" here, but the flick can't offer the same sense of dumb fun as that popular franchise -- though it certainly does have the dumb part down.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Ketchup Entertainment brings 'Vehicle 19' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Seemingly authentic but a little underwhelming, the image is solid but unimpressive.
The source is clean with a light to moderate layer of grain. With that said, the grain can look a tad fuzzy in certain shots. Detail is on the soft side, and though close-ups reveal a good sense of texture (we can see every speck of Walker's stubble), the picture has a faintly blurry look in some scenes. The movie was apparently filmed in 35mm, but it often looks more like 16mm. Colors are intentionally desaturated, and the picture is cast in a light, faintly washed out blue/orange glow that lacks much in the way of pop. Whites are overexposed to the point of blooming and while blacks are mostly steady, shadow detail is a bit murky in darker scenes.
Though the movie's style is a little unappealing, the picture retains a nice filmic quality and appears to respect the filmmakers' intentions without any troublesome processing or artifacts.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH subtitles. Immersive and lively, this is a strong audio mix that helps put the audience right in the thick of the film's action.
Speech is clear and precise with no issues to report. While the majority of the movie is contained to the inside of a single car, the track offers a great sense of atmosphere, fully realizing the bustling world that lurks just outside the protagonist's vehicle. Surrounding traffic is spread nicely around the room, sending passing cars and blaring horns in every direction with smooth pans. Other ambient effects like fluttering birds and dogs barking also add an extra layer to the soundfield, helping to sustain an active, breathing world. When the action ramps up, crashes, explosions, and gunshots all blast through with strong fidelity, but bass presence is just a tad subdued considering the aggressive content. The film's music also features nice separation and all the elements are balanced well together.
The filmmakers manage to do a lot with the film's seemingly limited setting, bringing a good amount of variety and dimension to the track. The audio actually plays a large part in engrossing viewers in the action and while the mix isn't quite demo material, it's certainly a strong effort, especially considering the project's comparatively low budget.
'Vehicle 19' showcases Paul Walker doing what he does best -- driving cars while angry. Sadly, that's not really saying much. Though there is some marginal fun here, this indie thriller is mostly unoriginal, dull, and dumb. Thankfully, the video transfer is authentic and the audio mix is strong. We only get one brief featurette, and it's worth a look for fans. The film is lackluster, but it could be worth a rental to those who really love vehicular action.