An ordinary case of road rage escalates into a horrific chase. This is the simple plot of a masterful TV movie, director Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971), a tense, well-acted and expertly edited model of efficient storytelling. Unfortunately, these classic filmmaking virtues completely escape the producers of Wrecker.

The movie opens with a gratuitous prologue in which a middle-aged couple breaks down on a backwoods road. You never see what happens to them, but their station wagon is towed down the highway by the mad tow-truck driver that chases down the film’s main dupes.

Even from this opening sequence, Wrecker does wrong by its source, suggesting that the road-raging truck driver is some kind of mythical figure haunting a stretch of two-lane highway called Devil’s Pass. The filmmakers fix what wasn’t broken. The original film starred Dennis Weaver as the lone, steadfast driver David Mann, an ordinary man (his very name is generic) driving an ordinary car on an ordinary business trip. Wrecker comes off as if some dudebros watched Duel and thought, “Hey, man, what if instead of a boring businessman there were these hot chicks (Anna Hutchison and Andrea Whitburn) in a hot car and they were going somewhere to PAR-TAY? Wouldn’t that be cool?”

No, dudebros. that would not be cool, and don’t you ever come within 20 feet of filmmaking equipment ever, ever again. The filmmakers at least honor Duel‘s strategy of never showing you the truck driver’s face. But Spielberg and screenwriter Richard Matheson effectively made the truck driver completely anonymous; we don’t know what motivates him other than road rage. Wrecker shows us the point of view from the truck driver’s cab, where we can see he’s got an upside down crucifix and a pentagram hanging. Because, you know, like, he’s evil, man.

Wrecker has justly been criticized for ripping off Duel without credit, but the real problem is that writer-director Michael Bafaro rips it off really, really badly. If the filmmakers had left the original script and premise alone, basic inertia could have given the project a chance to result in a decent B-movie. But the producers go out of their way to ruin a simple and perfect premise, and seem utterly incapable of putting together a decent action scene.

Take one scene, please. As the girls’ car comes careening down the highway to escape the raging tow truck, out of nowhere we see two children playing soccer in a field. Do we know where this field is in relation to where the main chase is taking place? Do we see a sports car off in the distance as these children innocently kick around a soccer ball, unaware of the danger they’re in? Of course not; we only see disjointed scenes of children playing and cars speeding, cut together in a way that doesn’t show us any kind of convincing spatial relationship. The girls stop and just barely miss hitting the children, but the scene ends not with a sigh of relief but with a shrug—which may be the strongest reaction this so-called action movie is likely to elicit. Don’t even think of wasting your well-earned shrugs on Wrecker.

  • Criminally Underrated: Universal Soldier: Regeneration

    Today, you’ll likely find more competent action filmmaking among direct-to-video flicks th…
  • The Virtuoso

    It is extraordinarily difficult to follow this inane story toward its inevitable conclusio…
  • Cliff Walkers

    Imbued with neither the passion of his classic period dramas nor the vitality of his famou…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Various Artists: Belong to the Wind

Connoisseurs of private-press records will be grateful that Forager uncovered a new set of…