Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 19, 2015)
Before Stephen Kingís Christine, 1977ís The Car told a tale of an vehicle. When two young cyclists ride through the American Southwest, a black vehicle drives them off the road and kills them.
From there we head to the nearby small town of Santa Ynez and meet local Sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin). The single father to daughters Lynn Marie (Kim Richards) and Debbie (Kyle Richards), he tries to integrate his girlfriend Lauren Humphries (Kathleen Lloyd) into the fold.
Family endeavors will have to wait, though, as that mysterious black car causes mayhem in Santa Ynez. First it mows down hitchhiker John Norris (John Rubinstein) and then it flattens Sheriff Everett Peck (John Marley). Sheriff Parent works to find out the secret of the car and stop its deadly ways.
At the start of the review, I alluded to comparisons between The Car and Stephen Kingís Christine. Now that Iíve seen The Car, though, I think it possesses greater similarities to the Spielberg canon.
The Car echoes two particular Spielberg flicks: 1971ís Duel and 1975ís Jaws. The links to Duel seem most obvious. Another tale about a menacing vehicle, the connections to Duel seem clear and almost certainly werenít coincidental.
That said, I actually feel like The Car draws more from Jaws. Both feature small town sheriffs as their leads and view the damage done by one marauding, deadly element. Of course, a potentially supernatural vehicle isnít the same as a shark who just does what sharks do, but I think the films boast clear similarities, especially in terms of story development and the presentation of the action scenes.
After I watched The Car, I checked out other opinions of the film, and I felt surprised to see how much negativity came its way. Maybe Iím just a little beaten-down after a recent screening of 1987ís Garbage Pail Kids Movie - a genuine cinematic atrocity Ė but I thought The Car mostly worked pretty well.
Not that Iíd call it a classic. As Iíve already related, The Car seems awfully derivative, and none of its actors merit praise for their performances. Even though we get talents like Ronny Cox and John Marley, they donít do much with their parts, and the lesser-known actors fail to bring anything to the table either.
That said, I think most of the performances seem fine for a story like this, as no one expects Oscar-caliber acting from a genre flick such as this anyway. We just want a decent action thriller and for the most part, The Car gives us that.
The film also isnít afraid to break some rules in terms of who lives or dies. I wonít provide spoilers, of course, but I felt surprised at some of the folks who ended up as victims. Usually one can easily predict whoíll survive a story such as this, but The Car brings surprises.
Outside of lackluster performances and some dodgy dialogue, probably the filmís biggest weakness comes from its willingness to meander and concentrate on character bits that donít further the narrative. We watch Sheriff Peckís interaction with an abused high school sweetheart and learn of Deputy Johnsonís alcohol problem.
Why? Damned if I know Ė maybe I missed something, but these elements seem extraneous, and the film offers other scenes that also fail to move along the tale like they should.
All those flaws mean that The Car never threatens to become a great Ė or even very good Ė film, and it certainly pales in comparison to the Spielberg flicks I mentioned. Still, it comes with some decent thrills and manages to keep our attention.