Paul Walker looks around for 90-minutes in Vehicle 19, a tightly contained mobile thriller, situating Walker behind a rental car traversing South African sights, never leaving those three-door confines. That leads to intercut shots of now paranoid Walker looking left, right, and behind as he pushes through downtrodden slums to settle political strife.
Michael Woods (Walker) fires up an incorrect rental car, beginnings of a calamitous mistake given his placement as a parolee, and runs headlong into conflict over sex trafficking. Entangled with a witness, Rachel (Naima McLean), Woods plods through unique Johannesburg locales as a disorientated outsider whose only goal was visiting his ex at the US embassy. Camerawork locks Woods into the drivers seat, swiftly delivering tension through claustrophobia and whipping up inventive action sequences that buck logical car chase routines.
Vehicle 19 is intelligently constructed, if dull to view. Cinematography lenses slums and colorful graffiti to break from the van’s interior, characters locked to mobile phones in order to create scenarios. Woods’ almost everyman character builds on past history, flirtations with alcohol and drunk driving precariously dangling over this moralist narrative. Woods is looking for expedient end to this predicament, while persistently being drawn into legal entanglements outside of his control.
Vehicle 19 is purposely thin to support the vehicle’s framing device, compacted into running time dodging under 90-minutes. Writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil props the conceptual side up with alluring locales, ill-considering how often little is happening. Vehicle 19 hinges on close-up shots of its star swiveling his head to peer at onlookers.
Comical chase cliches, including the blind man mid-stride and homeless person’s shopping cart, dribble cracks into credibility, although none more so than tension derived, dying cell phone battery. Vehicle 19 is stretching for pressure it cannot logically explain away, closing on third-art chase shenanigans and unfounded emotional lows.
Walker exudes little performance art cramped into the seat of a car, creating an element Walker is being typecast into. Winner here is Naima McLean, desperate and confused as sole witness to corruption, stuffed into the van’s rear compartment. Distrusting and rightfully mortified within this scenario, McLean’s panicked demeanor perks Vehicle 19 ups during its saggy middle third.
Single location thrillers need taut, torrid editing to bind them, something this often spacious piece is never provided. Titles such as Phone Booth or Frozen work extended hours to implicitly drawn an audience into unfathomable circumstances. Vehicle 19 is licked by arid ideas and clumsily manufactured finale between otherwise elegant – almost first-person – chase work. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
With a bold film stock capturing decidedly vicious South African contrasting sun, Vehicle 19 is a determined visual set piece. Rocked by contrast and backed with outstanding black levels when called upon, measurable depth falls outside of the usual sliding scale. Occasionally bleached from exterior lighting, cinematography is unforgiving with its fierce appearance.
Arc dips into AVC encoding’s best, establishing a hold on tight grain structure with immediacy. Only under the cloak of a parking garage does grain structure peak, and compression still remains fiercely active to fend off any image instability.
Problems come in two forms, both outside Blu-ray controls. One is focus, drifting shot to shot while eliminating pure facial definition. Fuzzy close-ups are dramatic in their shifts from near perfection, resolving absolute fidelity in one frame before swerving to miss a mark entirely. Location work, captured through car windows, rarely feels broad or expansive yet still exhibits local flavoring.
Second? Obscene color timing that listlessly falls into patterns of orange and blues, sometimes teal. Color grading turns baked-in saturation of African locations into bold two-tone mixes. Flesh tones capture orange, environments soak up blue. While unarguably stout in their presentation, repetitiously colored sights drag on visual stimuli. Primaries do escape, however few in number, and reveal how brilliant additional hues could have been used en masse.
Of final consideration is aspect ratio, confusingly 2.35:1 during its indie run, now 1.78:1 on Blu-ray. While photography is cramped, it is also sucked into a set the width of a passenger seat; it’s naturally compacted no matter the frame. Vehicle 19 was likely opened up for home video as opposed to cropped. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Lacking notable low-end, this DTS-HD mix never takes advantage of its .1, even as a car flips and explodes – because that’s what flipped cars do.
Despite missing LFE, surround use beautifully mirrors vehicle interiors, working up dazzling motion while cops blare sirens. Precision between surrounds is dead on accurate. Engines rev up as well, placing material for positionals to capture with consistency. Stereos are often left out of this audio equation, much of the panic situated behind actors. A side collision will prove front speakers capable however. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Trailers and 12-minute featurette take up disc space for bonuses without much in the way of accomplishment. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]