On a road to nowhere.
You have to go all the way back to 1986 to find the last sterling effort in the slasher/road movie sub-genre. The Hitcher, like it's titular troublemaker, came from out of nowhere and left a trail of cult destruction in it's wake. Famous for stirring the video nasty debate, The Hitcher offered us fingers for french fries, a nutty Rutger Hauer weilding a nifty Spas shotgun and Jennifer Jason Leigh performing stretching exercises betwixt a truck and a hard place. That it was also rather good seemed to take a little longer to filter through to the media at large, though not nearly as long as it's director's return to the subject matter 17 years later for Highwaymen.
Clearly fed up with Van Damme fare like 1993's Nowhere To Run and latterly stuck in TV movie hell, Robert Harmon obviously figured that going back to what you know must be the best option and so presents us with this little number, originally intended for cinemas but mysteriously pulled at the last minute in favour of a DTV release. Starring The Pizzizi Of The Chrizzizi's Jim Caviezel and Rhona "Her Wot Woz Lara Croft First" Mitra, Highwaymen is essentially a motorway face-off between widower Rennie (Caviezel), and a mysterious highway hitman named Fargo with a penchant for running his 72 El Dorado into helpless young women, one of whom was Rennie's wife.
Now having taken on the role of road avenger, Rennie spends his time manning his V8 stylee Barracuda in search of Fargo, using his "sixth sense" to sniff out the killer along thousands of miles of tarmac and arriving just in the nick of time to save Molly (Mitra) from his unwanted advances. Witnessing her family wiped out in a car crash as a child would be traumatic enough, but when Fargo singles her out and turns her best mate into a bloody skidmark, only Rennie can prevent another disaster in the helpless young lady's life, ie. the end of it. Will he succeed, or will Molly eat road? Will by-the-book road cop Macklin (Frankie Faison) throw a spanner in the works, or will Rennie's soul-searching "depth" sway him into siding with the vigilante? Will you care? Can you guess the answer to that question given the tone I've adopted in this last paragraph? Hmmm...
Yes, there's a fairly good reason why Highwaymen slipped below the celluloid radar and onto silver disc; it's bab. Not irredeemably bab, but certainly choad enough to explain why studio execs dropped it like a hot bakada potada. What's most annoying is that the first five minutes manage to be fairly atmospheric, with some nice washed-out vista deployment and a suitably dreamlike demise for Rennie's missus. Rev up the engine and drop us off in the present however, and Highwaymen soon slips on the cruise control and rolls happily along the road to Mundanesville. Hopes that a new cult favourite might come hurtling over the horizon are soon left stranded on the hard shoulder as Harmon dismisses opportunity after opportunity to turn in above-average thriller fodder in exchange for trawling through endless cliches.
Everything here reeks of the easy way out, from the blase script to Harman's handling of tension, and as for the stuntwork well... for a film revolving around souped-up cars and grudge matches there's not a single spectacular crash worthy of mention. Unforgivable. Despite the presence of some reasonable acting talent (Christ for...His sake!) there's precious little for anyone to actually do, so vacuous is the written word on which Highwaymen pivots. There's a certain degree of frustration to be had on behalf of Mitra who shows she's actually not all that bad at this acting lark, yet fails to recieve an iota of backup from anyone supposedly on her team. As for Caviezel, well it's hard to be taken seriously when you're required to look pensive while collecting prosthetic limbs from abandoned barns (don't ask). Equally lamentable is Harman's choice to attempt to invest human character in the automobiles of his hero and foil; a decision he seems to abandon halfway through the movie and never returns to.
That the movie bothers to keep it's bad guy shrouded in secrecy for an hour after tactically deploying the actor's name beside that of his character in the opening credits should give you some idea as to how cackhanded an operation this is. Fans of The Hitcher might also notice Hauer's famous magic teleportation from that movie being repeated here, only this time the excuse of conveying the nightmare origins of the protagonist is rendered void by the fact it's the other players who perform this amazing feat, one of whom quite literally appears in the back of someone's car in order to precipitate a moment of resolution that might otherwise have required the screenwriter to pen in a couple of extra lines of dialogue.
To cut a long story short, if the filmmakers can't be bothered then neither should you. If you really want to waste 80 minutes of your life there are certainly worse movies than this, but few that seem to have been approached with such general apathy. Avoid.
Disko awards this movie 2 out of 5 Dooh-dahs.
Rhona Mitra (Molly)
Frankie Faison (Macklin)
Colm Feore (Fargo)