[box cover]

Highwaymen

Consigned to Texas for its ominously brief theatrical release, Highwaymen suggests that its distributor, New Line, possesses some virulent animus toward the Lone Star State. It's not like Texas has historically been an exclusive dumping ground for bad cinema. What exactly was the studio trying to say? Was this simply the indiscriminate fulfilling of a regrettable exhibition contract, or was there a political motivation, and, if so, why not just opt for one screen in Crawford rather than 100+ all over the state? On a more pragmatic note, why didn't New Line wait until after its star, Jim Caviezel, was turned into a metaphorical heavy bag by Mel Gibson in order to potentially capitalize on his sudden, sacred popularity? (Not that this helped Rowdy "Road House" Harrington's Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius much.) If one finds themselves asking a multitude of questions following a viewing of Highwaymen, it's only because the central dilemma it poses — How did it escape the development stage without a series of top-to-bottom rewrites? — is irresoluble. It's unclear how much invective should be loosed on director Robert Harmon, a workmanlike fellow still capable of currying "B"-movie fan favor on the strength of his cruel 1987 minor classic The Hitcher. The road-bound Highwaymen unavoidably elicits (false) hope that this is Harmon's trash-cinema rebirth, and, to be fair, he seems primed to deliver in the early going. When Rennie Cray (Caviezel) sees his wife mowed down intentionally by a 1972 Cadillac El Dorado-driving madman (Colm Feore), he sets out on a five-year, soul-snuffing quest for revenge, laconically tracking the killer all over the country. An early scene, in which Cray identifies the psycho's proximity by tasting spilled motor oil in a recently fled hideout like a cop tonguing narcotics, promises giddy heights of unabashed (and, hopefully, knowing) stupidity that the film never comes close to reaching. Instead, the writers (Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer) invent an imperiled female (Lara Croft-inspiration Rhona Mitra) whom Mr. El Dorado has chosen as his next victim. Also joining the pursuit is an accident investigator, who, of course, believes that Cray is actually the killer. There's the germ of an exploitable idea here, and Feore's post-crash cyborg design (reminiscent of dude-on-wheels from Charles Band's epic The Eliminators) is the right kind of ridiculous. But if Harmon's having a measure of fun amping up the look of the film with his stylish scope visuals and reasonably well-staged crash-'em-ups, that same kind of unfettered enthusiasm went sadly unexpended in the writing of the script. The bad dialogue (and it's absolutely execrable for a studio picture) would be pardonable had the plot been pointed in imaginatively ludicrous directions, but it remains on a wholly pat trajectory that should've parked it permanently on blocks on the Sci-Fi Channel's front lawn. Also wasted is an atmospheric score from Mark Isham that, fortunately, he should be able to recycle for a better film in the future. New Line presents Highwaymen in an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras are limited to theatrical trailers for this film and other New Line releases. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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