Attention shoppers. Behind this door at your local multiplex we
are featuring two shows for the price of one, but not a double feature.
BREAKDOWN encompasses two competing movies. One, a taut thriller
will keep your attention wondering how the hero will get himself and
his wife out of their predicament. Nothing worthy of a Hitchcock, but
a substantive, even if highly derivative, mystery.
The other movie, which could go by the handle of KILLER TRUCK,
believes that satisfaction comes from car chases and crashes, with
maximum highway carnage being the chief metric of success. This part
moves surpasses the absurd on its way to the truly ridiculous.
So which part wins? I'll tell you at the end of the review.
The movie opens with Jeff and Amy Taylor, played by Kurt Russell
and Kathleen Quinlan, driving on a remote road in a desert canyon in
one of the western states. They have sold their Massachusetts home and
are almost broke except for their shinny red, new Jeep Cherokee. They
quit their jobs and are off to find new ones just like the Howards did
in LOST IN AMERICA. The Taylors, however, run into a bit more trouble.
Their car dies in the middle of nowhere, but luckily, or perhaps
unluckily, a friendly trucker named Red Barr (J. T. Walsh) passes by
and offers a hand. Jeff suggests that Amy go with Red in his
18-wheeler to Billie's Dinner five miles up the road so that she can
call a tow truck. Meanwhile, Jeff will keep an eye on their prized and
only major possession to ensure that it is not stolen. (His cell phone
has proven useless since they are too far from a cell site.)
Jeff discovers a wire that has pulled loose so he starts the car
and goes to find his wife. The unfriendly natives at the dusty dinner
can't abide strangers asking questions, but none of them claims to have
seen Amy. The owner's carefully worded response is that he has been
busy and hasn't seen her, but that he cannot say for sure if she has
been there or not.
When Jeff drives off to go looking again, he finds Red, but Red
claims to have never seen Jeff or his wife. The polite local cop stops
by and searches Red's truck without finding any evidence.
This is merely the setup for the mystery. I will not discuss it
further so as not to give anything away. If you've seen the trailers,
you already know more than I've told you.
Kurt Russell sweats and sweats as panic sets in. His heavy
breathing transmits a palpable sense of fright. As his eyes glaze over
while looking at a board of flyers about missing people, his fear and
feeling of helplessness engulf the screen.
Kathleen Quinlan, who received an Academy Award nomination for her
part as Marilyn Lovell in APOLLO 13, puts very little into her role in
BREAKDOWN, but she gets minimum screen time. Quinlan needs more subtle
roles to bring out her talent. Here she is wasted.
Best is J. T. Walsh as the cool, but deadly trucker. Walsh has
had small but important assignments in a whole host of films from GOOD
MORNING, VIETNAM to EXECUTIVE DECISION. He has the aura of an
explosion about to happen at any moment, even when he is completely
The film's pacing is fast and the tension in the show mounts,
thanks to the editing by Derek Brechin and Kevin Stitt. They love to
shock the audience with a quick cut from a quiet scene to the loud
noise of something bad happening. The frequently overpowering music by
Basil Poledouris keeps the film from ever being in danger of having a
subtle moment. Director Jonathan Mostow, whose only other theatrical
film was BEVERLY HILLS BODYSNATCHERS, has talent but needs to exercise
more self-restraint when it comes to creating action sequences.
I promised to reveal which movie won. In an ending that seems
like it will never finish, the car chase part overwhelms the mystery
part. Watching one action cliche after another, the audience's natural
reaction to the film's conclusion has to be, "Yeah, right!"
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes