Highwaymen is a brisk, quick adrenaline shot of a movie. If it also happened to be great, then I would recommend it. It’s ultimately a fine and harmless film that won’t take much time out of your life to sit through, but it’s also so thin in content, so juvenile in its writing, and so lackluster in other areas that I’m not sure if it’s worth the 80 minutes that it takes to sit through. It’s not exactly bad, but there are far better uses of your time than watching it.
We begin with a prologue, showing how a man, Rennie (James Caviezel), watches his wife get killed in a hit and run incident as she was crossing the street after buying cherries — or perhaps it was some other fruit; who really knows? We then fast forward a few years later, when the same unknown driver involved in the hit and run decides to pick a new target: Molly (Rhona Mitra) and Alex (Andrea Roth). Molly survives — and it’s revealed that her parents died in a car crash and that this is the second one to happen to her — while Alex is killed. Rennie then kidnaps Molly, tells her his back story, and we’re getting ready for a final showdown between two teams: The unknown driver and Rennie/Molly.
That’s basically all there is to the plot, save for a couple of tacked-on back stories and other attempts at character depth. Rennie wants revenge, obviously, although why Molly eventually tags along is anyone’s guess. Once the driver is revealed, we learn that he is a tad sympathetic as well, considering his physical condition. There’s also a traffic investigator played by Frankie Faison who plays a minor role in the developments.
It’s kind of nice to see an action-thriller that isn’t at all reliant on special effects. Cars hit cars with frequency, but apart from one crash that made me laugh out loud — a car was sent flying 20 feet into the air after being hit — I was never taken out of the film by the effect work that was done. All of the crashes felt real, whether they were or not, and you appreciate that you stay in the film instead of thinking about what went into staging a particular scene.
Unfortunately, the car crashes are just about the only things that Highwaymen can be praised for. The rest is either a mess, too brief to be noteworthy, or simply poor. The plot feels contrived and basically nonexistent, the “tragic” pasts given to the characters are silly and didn’t help give them depth, the dialogue made me want to slap the writers for thinking the audience is this stupid — if you hope for any subtlety, you’ll be very disappointed — and the actors were one-note archetypes.
Writers, tell me something. How frequently do you want to have characters refer to each other by name? You need to find a balance, right? You want the audience to find out the person’s name, and you want them to remember the name by re-introducing it every now and then. That helps the audience out and also makes it feel at least somewhat realistic. Highwaymen has characters refer to each other by name whenever possible. It gets laughable after a while, and is only one instance of the film lacking subtlety.
James Caviezel did not sell to me the fact that his character wanted revenge. I understood it from a narrative perspective, but whenever I saw his face, I thought that he might just want a burger instead. That’s about as much determination as I saw from him. Mitra showed a bit more emotional range and can play the victim card fine, but I didn’t understand her character and a victim was all she was — there was no transformation even though, from a narrative perspective, she should have changed.
The only performance I enjoyed was from the driver whose actor I won’t reveal. While he’s given a very limited role, physically, he seemed to be channeling Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter for most of the time he was on-screen. That was actually enjoyable to watch, and he seemed to be the only one having fun with what’s somewhat of a silly premise, if you really think about it. “Serial killer goes on hit and run spree while mailing news clippings about it to the husband of only one of his victims, who, in turn, drives across the entire country seeking revenge.” Yeah, that’s silly.
What Highwaymen really needed to do was embrace how silly it was and become a more enjoyable B-movie instead of taking everything so seriously. There are few smiles, no charm, and the experience isn’t as enjoyable as a result. That’s a tone problem, and comes straight from the director, Robert Harmon, whose only real notable release was The Hitcher. If only this film had been as good as the ’80s cult classic.
Highwaymen is sparse, far too serious, and thin in pretty much every aspect. It’s tolerable and it has some enjoyable scenes — like the car crash that sends a car flying twenty feet in the air — but overall isn’t really worth your time. The script hasn’t heard of the word “subtle,” the actors are one-note, the plot is thin and can’t carry even the 80 minutes that the film plays for, and the tone is all wrong. While Highwaymen has its moments, it’s not worth the time it’ll take you to find it, let alone giving it a watch.