Vanishing Point

12.14.07 | Comment?

Saw the movie Vanishing Point last night. Verdict: not bad. It tells the story Kowalski, a delivery driver who picks up a car in Denver for delivery to San Francisco. He decides to make the trip in 15 hours, basically for the hell of it. You may read that it was for a bet, but the bet is small potatoes and Kowalski was already itching to roll.

So he takes off down Colorado roads at high speed. The cops weren’t happy about that and did their best to encourage him to slow down. This didn’t have the desired effect, as Kowalski left them trying to call for backup as they choked on his dust.

The first hour or so of the film was essentially a series of chases, cut with brief flashbacks to Kowalski’s previous life as a race driver and a cop. DJ Super Soul, listening in on a police-band radio at his small town radio station, serves as Kowalski’s main cheerleader and contact with the real world.

The second hour is a lot more interesting. Kowalski takes off into the Nevada desert to evade the highway patrol and ends up lost, with a flat tire. Soon he encounters an old man who is hunting for snakes for a fundamentalist Christian sect. This begins a series of encounters for Kowalski, who also runs into some gay (maybe?) hitchhikers and an easy rider who gives him a hand (and his girlfriend, who’d also like to help Kowalski out).

All this doesn’t seem like it would add up to much, but it’s actually a pretty good movie. If nothing else it’s a snapshot of the odd and unique character of America at the beginning of the Seventies. It’s like the whole country reverted to childhood for a decade beginning around 1966.

The movie has a strong “Stick it to the man!” undercurrent, which I had a hard time sympathizing with. Besides, Kowalski isn’t trying to stick it to anybody. He just wants to drive the car.

One thing I didn’t notice until later: as the movie begins, Kowalski is trying to run a blockade into California. As he approaches the roadblock, he passes a black sedan going the other way, and a flashback begins that makes up the rest of the movie.

The black sedan is the car he delivers to Denver. It’s like the entire movie is a huge loop, with Kowalski unable to do more than drive. Which, as it happens, is all he seems to want to do – stay in motion.

Barry Newman, who plays Kowalski, has been in a ton of stuff, and was very good in a movie I enjoyed a few years ago, 1999’s The Limey. Here he’s aloof but likeable, and comes across as a really decent guy. Vanishing Point is worth checking out if you have some time.

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