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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Vehicle 19

Paul Walker is Always Furious and Sometimes Fast in "Vehicle 19"

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: June 14/July 23, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Thriller
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Mukunda Michael Dewil
Writer: Mukunda Michael Dewil
Cast:  Paul Walker, Naima McLean, 
Gys de Villiers, Leyla Haidarian, 
Tshepo Maseko, Andrian Mazive, 
Welile Nzuza, Mangaliso Ngema

At first glance, the car chase shown at the beginning of "Vehicle 19" seems like nothing out of the ordinary – but only for an instant. Then you notice the strange-looking police cars and the helicopter that's flying just a little too low. Very quickly, it becomes apparent than the man behind the wheel is not in New York, Los Angeles, or even the United States. He's in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The movie then flashes back to the very beginning. We see the driver walking to his rental car. He asked for a sedan but ended up with a minivan instead. That soon becomes a much bigger problem than he could have ever anticipated.

We learn that his name is Michael Woods (Paul Walker) and he's in the country to visit his ex-wife. Things are obviously strained between them for reasons that will eventually be revealed as the film progresses.

The problems Woods faces are mundane at first – wrong car, upset ex – but Paul Walker does a superb job of expressing frustration and rage. He creates a tense environment right off the bat that infects the viewer immediately.

But this wouldn't be much of a movie if his biggest issues were dropping his snack cake and getting stuck in traffic. It builds slowly and boils, and it isn't long before he realizes that something is definitely amiss...

1. His first clue: finding a gun that doesn't belong to him.

2. After that, he receives a call from a cell phone that isn't his.

3. And then there's the South African woman – tied up in the trunk.

Her name is Rachel Shabangu (Naima McLean), and there's a reason she has been kidnapped and trapped.

"Vehicle 19" makes South Africa look like a corrupt hellhole. Whether it is or isn't, what do I care? I'm not on that country's tourism committee! All that really matters is how entertaining the movie is. After all, nobody is going to confuse this for a documentary anyway.

Paul Walker's character has been placed in an improbable situation, but he always reacts realistically and appropriately. Sometimes he does things later than you or I might, but that's understandable because he's confused and under constant stress.

Placing Walker behind the wheel of a car will inevitably invite comparisons to "The Fast and the Furious," but "Vehicle 19" is a different type of experience entirely. There is one major car chase, and a few minor ones, but this isn't necessarily the high-octane action joyride you may be expecting. Instead, it's a tense thriller.

Perhaps because of those assumptions, the "Tomatometer" score for the movie is predictably low. That's a shame. I can't help but think that if a lesser-known "artsy" international actor had been cast instead of Paul Walker, the critics would be climbing over each other to sing this film's praises. But Walker works perfectly in the role. He's a "stranger in a strange land" – an American in a foreign country he's never been to before – and that element is crucial to telling this story. 

There's nothing particularly fancy about the movie – the plot is fairly basic, no frills – but the pressure is constant, the anxiety is always mounting, and Paul Walker delivers a fantastic performance throughout it all. "Vehicle 19" is exceptionally well done – a spectacular surprise.

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