Released this week on DVD and Blu-Ray, Vehicle 19 is a pretty standard thriller except it has the unique gimmick of never leaving the titular vehicle for the entire movie, which makes it much more interesting than it would be.
Paul Walker stars as recently released parolee Michael Woods, who immediately breaks his parole by flying to Johannesburg, South Africa to reunite with his ex-wife, who is working out of the US embassy there. A seemingly just inconvenient mix-up with his rental car quickly escalates when the van was clearly left for someone else as Woods first finds a cell phone in the glove compartment, then a gun under the passenger seat and finally a woman tied up in the trunk. Against his will, he’s drawn into helping stop a conspiracy that involves the chief of police and his corrupt activities. The plot is incredibly bare bones but structure of the movie helps make it feel tight and more tense as we’re stuck in the same boat as Paul Walker in this van and trying to figure out exactly what is going on. It also helps add to the tension and danger that this is taking place in Johannesburg, which seems to be an incredibly dangerous place once you get out of the safety of the main city.
If you saw and enjoyed Buried with Ryan Reynolds, Vehicle 19 is kind of the next evolution. It has similar ideas, like basically being a one man show and having lots of conversations over the phone but Vehicle 19 has the advantage of being set in a car, so it’s much more dynamic and more things can happen and in a much more believable way. There’s a great climactic car chase that while not the most original feels unique because of the perspective. You’re enjoyment of this movie is also going to largely depend on how much you can tolerate Paul Walker. If you can’t stand him, than this is not the movie for you, as you are basically trapped in a car with him for an hour and a half. He’s fine when he’s grimly driving through the city but when he’s called upon for dramatic moments, it’s kind of terrible. He has what is supposed to be a kind of final, emotional good-bye voicemail to his ex-wife and he delivers it in the most monotone, uninterested way possible. It’s clear just how much the likability of the other cast members of the Fast & Furious movies works to neutralize his kind of blandness when you’re riding along with him for the entire movie.
I’m kind of a sucker for these “trapped in one location” movies and Vehicle 19 is one of the better recent ones like Buried or ATM. The plot and acting are only servicable but the gimmick of staying in the vehicle is interesting enough that it’s definitely worth checking out as a rental.