By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Terror on the road.
Based on a story by Dean R. Koontz and filmed in France under the title Les Passagers the plot centers on Alex (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who picks up his 11-year-old stepson Marc (Richard Constantini) from school and sets off to drive him across France and into Italy where they are to meet his mother Nicole (Mireille Darc). Along the way they become menaced by a strange man (Bernard Fresson) driving a black van that begins following them. At first Alex thinks nothing of it, but when the van tries driving them off the road they go to the police who prove to be unhelpful, which forces Alex to take things into his own hands in order to save both himself and the boy.
The film starts off well with definite hints to Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel. I enjoyed how initially everything is from Alex’s and Marc’s point-of-view where we do not know the identity of the driver in the black van, which is only seen through the perspective of their rear window that gives the vehicle a creepy presence. The banter between the boy and step father is engaging and the fact that the kid is smart and shows a keen awareness of things and not just there to be cute is great. I also liked the bawdy tune they sing together and the shot of the boy driving the car while the father leans out the passenger side window.
There is an exciting moment where the van tries pushing their car off the highway while they’re on a winding mountaintop road that is well photographed and realistic. The two are subsequently forced to ride the rest of the way in a tattered vehicle that has no windshield and looks almost as beat-up as the automobile in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
I did not like however that fifteen minutes into the movie we are shown the face of the other driver, which takes away from the intriguing mystery angle that is what made Duel so interesting. The bad guy isn’t frightening and comes off as clumsy and careless, which makes him less threatening. The fact that he does not carry any type of weapon and must resort to grabbing a nearby fire ax in order to attack Trintignant’s character when the two confront each other didn’t make much sense.
The film’s biggest transgression though is that its twist ending isn’t surprising at all as the mystery man turns out to be the wife’s psycho ex-boyfriend, which is something I had guessed early on and most other viewers probably will too. It also leaves open a tremendous amount of loopholes like why Alex wouldn’t have been made aware of this boyfriend earlier as I’m sure he would’ve been stalking them long before she got remarried and why the boy wouldn’t have guessed that the stranger chasing them was this man as well as most likely he would’ve known about him too. The police investigation, which gets worked in as a sort of side story proves pointless to the plot and the fact that they end up being quite incompetent makes them seem similar to the ‘comic relief’ cops from Last House on the Left, which hurts the tension.
End of Spoiler Alert!
This film has managed to acquire a small cult following and it has good set-up, but it would’ve worked better had it been done solely from the point-of-view of the father and stepson and only revealed the face and identity of the bad guy at the very end.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Alternate Title: Les Passagers
Released: March 9, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes
Director: Serge Leroy
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: None at this time.