Back in 1970 - the days of Easy Rider and take-on-the-Man movies, Vanishing Point was a cult classic car chase story. Jimmy Kowalsky is a Vietnam Vet who has seen rough times, and who takes a wild bet to get a Dodge Challenger from point A to B in X hours. It turns into a madhouse chase with cops, hippies, motorcycles and drugs.
Fast forward to 1997 - when computers, cell phones and satellite tracking rule our world. Now it's not so much about The Man as it is simply being free. Now getting Kicks on 66 isn't a compelling enough storyline either - Viggo Mortensen's character has a loving, Catholic wife who has redeemed him. She's sick with Lupus and has gone into premature labor with their first child - and it is his race to be at her side so she doesn't lose the baby that puts him into this incredible cross-country speed chase.
The cops are still portrayed in their stereotypical 70s incredibly-insane-and-bad way, though. There are cops that bad-talk him just for the hell of it, cops that fire shots at him and play head-on chicken. There are FBI guys who invent lies about his right-wing racist past in order to get action taken. Pretty much every single cop is shown as completely without morals. On the other hand, every person Kowalsky meets up with on his quest is a fringe of society type, rejected by the government but a firm friend of other rebels.
I definitely love car chase movies, and I love the cult classic references - even having Kowalsky *still* driving a classic Dodge Challenger. I enjoyed the American Indian scene and the gorgeous scenery that you see scroll by you. It really makes you want to get a car and go out to drive around the western US for a few months. I like the flashbacks showing how Jimmy's life has progressed, and the poignancy of symbolism culminating in his Easter Sunday standoff.
Still, the black and white nature of the characters really bothered me. I realize that car chase movies aren't going to be full of Godfather style drama - but having every single cop be a brain-dead jerk really got to be wearing. Viggo's character is a ranger and a man who lives on his own power - but you don't get that sense of strength in him when you watch the movie. I can name several other movies that Viggo's been in where that inner strength really shines through. I realize he tends to play characters in a "mellow" way - but this time the mellowness was just a little too much.
A fun chase movie, but I would have liked it with more texture - with more good-and-bad surrounding the main character, and with more depth allowed to be expressed in Jimmy himself.
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