By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Child witness gets kidnapped.
Travis (Harley Cross) is a 9-year-old who witnesses a mob hit and for his own protection both he and his parents (Cooper Huckabee, Suzanne Savoy) are put into a witness protection program where they are uprooted from the home they’d live-in and moved to an isolated place that has federal agents standing guard outside around-the-clock. One day the place gets invaded by Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), who are two hit men working for the mob. The mob wants to prevent Travis from testifying in court, so the two hit men kill the parents and the federal agents and then kidnap the boy and take him on a long road trip to Houston where the mob bosses can question him directly. Along the way Cohen and Tate bicker and make clear they do not like each other and Travis exploits this to get them to fight more and then uses it as a diversion to escape.
After writing the screenplays for The Hitcher and Near Dark Eric Red was finally given the green light to direct his own movie and tension-wise the film is compact, but visually it’s boring. The car ride taking place almost completely a night where we see nothing but the interior shots of an old, grimy car enveloped by pitch blackness is not interesting and having it instead take place in the daylight where the rugged, but scenic Texas landscape could’ve added ambiance would’ve worked better. The night setting also adds in a few logic loopholes like when the kid runs down the highway there’s tons of traffic, but why would there be so many vehicles in the dead of night and the middle-of-nowhere? Also, you’d think a least a few of those drivers who saw a kid running on the road might want to pull over and offer assistance, but none of them do.
The film’s only surprising element is seeing Roy Scheider play a bad guy, which he rarely ever did. The role was originally intended for Gene Hackman, who turned it down, and then offered to John Cassavetes, who also passed on it, which is ashame. Cassavetes, with his tall stature and hawk-like facial features would’ve been perfect. Scheider, for what it’s worth, is okay, but he looks frail especially when seated next to the much bigger and younger Baldwin making his character appear weak and vulnerable. The film wants to portray Scheider as being in-control, but that’s not really how it ever comes-off.
The in-fighting between the hit men is a big problem as it telegraphs right away the eventual meltdown between the two and Bladwin’s character, as a young thug with a violent, quick triggered temper, is about as cliched as you can get. These guys don’t come-off as being very smart either making the film’s ironic theme at seeing this young kid outsmart them at every turn not that impressive since anyone with an IQ of 5 could’ve easily done the same thing. A well run criminal plan, or any plan for that matter, predicts unexpected possible problems upfront and has a Plan-B already in-place in-case they arise, but these guys seem like they never bothered to think through anything making their constantly perplexed expressions at every blunder that comes along unintentionally comical and more like they’re stooges instead of bad-ass killers.
The boy is another issue as he’s too savvy for his age. Most kids would be paralyzed with fear at being kidnapped by two thugs who’ve just killed his parents (it’s later learned that the father survived the attack, but upfront he didn’t know this). A normal kid would’ve sat in the back of the car crying and not known what to do, but this one acts super street smart and even talks back to the killers, which isn’t interesting or realistic. A better approach would’ve had him terrified and helpless at the beginning and then slowly becoming more emboldened as the story progressed.
The ending is anti-climactic. A police helicopter spots the stolen vehicle that Scheider and the kid are in, so at the last second Scheider veers the car off the highway and drives it into the business district of Houston. However, there are no cars or people around even though it’s during the day. The police squad cars then quickly race in and surround them like they were waiting for him, but how would they have known he would end up in that area since he veered off the highway in an impulsive spur-of -the- moment way?
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 12, 1988
Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes
Director: Eric Red
Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Blu-ray