V is for… Vehicle 19
When I first conceived this project, I couldn’t think of an action movie—anywhere and anywhen—that began with the letter “V.” Fortunately, in between then and now, a movie that begins with the letter “V” and is sort of actiony was produced, and it is this film, Vehicle 19, that I present you with today.
For better or for worse.
…Okay, for worse. Very, very worse.
Vehicle 19, directed by Mukunda Michael Dewil, is one of the last vehicles—ahem—of the late Paul Walker, and it’s a shame it wasn’t a better one. Walker stars as Michael Woods, a paroled felon who is visiting his ex-wife Angie (Leyla Haidarian) in Johannesburg, South Africa. When I say “stars,” I mean Michael Woods is in almost every single shot of the film, except the ones where we’re looking outside of Vehicle 19.
It makes more sense when you watch it, and realize that every.single.shot. is from inside the car except the very last one. The very.last.one. The viewer doesn’t even know what Vehicle 19 looks like until then except for one photograph and one reflection.
So, Michael Woods rents a car from Hertz, and even though he knows there’s been a mix-up and the car isn’t the one he reserved, he takes it anyway because he’s in a hurry. He drives around completely lost for a while, because he didn’t ask for directions, until he realizes that not only is there a strange cellphone in the glove box, there’s also a handgun on the floor. Just as he leaves the car in frustration, and the viewer thinks, “Hey, maybe the camera will move outside the car,” he comes back to the car and answers the phone. On the other end is police Detective Smith (Gys de Villiers), who tells him he got mixed up in an undercover operation, and they’ll meet him somewhere to switch out the car.
So, Woods drives around and gets lost some more, because he can’t read a map and doesn’t ask Smith how to get to where he needs to meet him (surely just an excuse to get Walker to say “Smuts” so many times). And then, as he’s explaining to Angie why he’s not there yet (strange city, language barrier, idiot), the backseat folds down and there’s a bound and gagged woman there!
Rachel Shabangu (Naima McLean) eventually—because though neither of them know what’s going on, they don’t actually talk about what’s going on—explains that she found out the Chief of Police Ben Rose, as well as other high-ranking police officers, are involved in a sex trafficking ring. They argue some more, and more bad decisions are made. Eventually they try to save Angie, and Rachel winds up getting shot. Rather than drive to a hospital, they go to a parking garage, and Rachel dies right after having Woods record her testimony.
Woods finally decides to fight back, and strives to deliver the testimony to the only person Rachel trusts, Judge Mzuka (Mangaliso Ngema). After a high-speed chase, because if this movie didn’t have one, then why bother making it, Woods is able to deliver Rachel’s testimony as evidence against Rose and Smith. He only gets shot a little, and is able to clear his name, which over the course of the movie got dragged through the mud, what with having a woman bleed to death in his rental car.
Rather than have the final shot be a sort of “concluding” moment with Woods, indicating personal growth and future success, the last shot is of a Hertz employee getting Vehicle 19 ready for its next rental. It’s a little morbid.
Finally, on to the criteria!
A is for… Accents
Fortunately the film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, because all of the characters had accents except for Woods. The film taking place in Chicago or Dallas wouldn’t be as disorienting for Woods, and he’d have an easier time asking for directions because most likely people would speak English.
B is for… Bad Guys
The audience doesn’t really see much of the bad guy. The head of the trafficking ring is Chief of Police Ben Rose, who we don’t see at all. Woods communicates with Detective Smith, and meets him at the end, but other than “be involved” and threaten Woods’s ex-wife, Smith doesn’t really do much. He’s only able to blame everything on Woods because Woods is a moron.
Basically, corrupt cops are at the heart of why Woods is having such a terrible car rental experience.
C is for… Chases
In a huge tease, the film opens with a chase. Our dashing hero is driving around, and being chased by cop cars and a cop helicopter. Sadly this is this most exciting thing to happen until this chase gets picked up again towards the end of the movie.
When Woods is trying to swap cars at the warehouse on Smuts Street, there are two cars of bad guys that chase him.
At one point it’s not clear if Woods is actually being chased by cop cars, or if he’s just paranoid and ducking around for no reason.
Finally, finally the film catches up to itself, and the chase from the opening sequence is extended. Part of chase goes through disgusting alleyways, and also through a grocery store. More on that under “Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief.”
D is for… Damsels
Angie, for all that she’s never actually on camera, is Woods’s horribly nagging ex-wife. The guy is breaking the terms of his parole for her (by leaving the United States), and all of her lines are around a common theme of not trusting him and thinking he’s getting drunk instead of being lost. Angie creates a sort of tension at the beginning of the film, where the hardest obstacle Woods faces is not knowing how to read or fold a map, but she’s really more annoying than anything else with her constant litany of how Woods can’t be trusted and she doesn’t want to be hurt.
In contrast, Rachel is immediately fighting the second she’s conscious. She head-butts Woods, grabs the gun and holds it against him to get him to stop the car, she opens the door to try to jump out of the moving car, and is all around a badass as she gets in a shootout with their pursuers at the warehouse. Unfortunately, she’s also an idiot and has Woods chauffer her to nowhere rather than explain immediately what the heck is going on and why she’s tied up in the trunk of the car. She eventually explains she works for the National Prosecuting Authority, and she was kidnapped so she doesn’t talk about the sex trafficking ring. There’s no explanation for why Rose or Smith didn’t just kill her, rather than kidnap her.
E is for… Explosions
During the chase at the warehouse, Woods gets a bad guy to flip his car over. After it lands, it explodes.
There’s a picture of an explosion on the box cover and it’s of this explosion.
It is so very, very disappointing.
F is for… Flashbacks
Technically the whole movie is a flashback, because it starts at one point and then jumps to “Earlier.”
The actual flashback is of Woods removing Rachel’s body from the car after she dies and leaving it in the parking garage. As the flashback is happening, Woods parked in a field and is staring at a decomposing corpse of some sort of (hopefully wild) dog.
G is for… Guns
Check out full details at the IMFDB—oh wait, you can’t, because the film is so obscure there isn’t an entry there. Wow!
Woods’s situation—that he is in the wrong place at the wrong time—is illustrated for him when he finds the handgun, with a silencer, inside the car.
Rachel soon proves her moxie by grabbing the gun when it’s in reach and threatening Woods with it. This provides the first exciting moment of the film.
Woods grabs the gun and it flies into the windshield and fires, nicking him. We were so close to the whole movie ending there.
Rachel engages in a shootout with the bad guys while she and Woods flee the warehouse.
In what can only be described as a reverse drive-by shooting, as Woods and Rachel drive past the American Embassy to warn Angie, one of Smith’s men shoots Vehicle 19, and the bullet pierces Rachel’s chest.
The last real scene of the film is a standoff on the steps of the courthouse between Woods, who takes a reporter hostage, and the cops and Smith.
H is for… Helicopters
In that promising opening chase, Woods is pursued by a police helicopter.
Teasing even more, during the extended chase towards the climax of the film, there’s a total of three police helicopters in pursuit of Woods.
I is for… Improvisation
Even if there had been something in Vehicle 19 with which Woods could have improvised, the character isn’t intelligent enough to be that creative.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
Kind of a stretch, considering the characters leave the car for a total of about 12 seconds, but Woods does manage to smash through another car’s open door. He also drives through the doors of the loading dock in the grocery store. Somehow.
K is for… Kill Count
Considering the character, I hadn’t been expecting a huge kill count for the film, because he’s not a professional law enforcer or retired special forces. The only guys he might have killed are those in the cars pursuing him at the warehouse. We can assume the car that exploded was carrying at least one bad guy who then died.
L is for… Limitations
Woods’s limitations are laid out fairly clearly and intentionally in the first few minutes of the film: he is dealing with a language barrier, an unfamiliar city, has no idea what is going on, and for some reason his butt is glued to that seat, because otherwise any normal person would have abandoned the car on the side of the road. Also, being an idiot should probably qualify as being a limitation.
M is for… Motivation
For most of the film, Woods is not terribly motivated to do much more than get to Angie before she divorces him again.
However, once his name is completely destroyed by Smith, who puts out an APB for his arrest for murder, Woods sort of buckles down to clear his name. His change of heart seems to be mostly sparked by Smith’s “sadistic-ass chuckle.”
Rachel of course wants to stay alive in order to present her evidence against the sex trafficking ring.
Presumably, Smith and Rose want to keep their traffic flowing.
N is for… Negotiation
The absolute only leverage Smith has over Woods is Angie, so of course threatening her is the only way he can manipulate Woods into doing anything for him.
Smith tells Woods to stay out of his way, which only pushes Woods to fight back. Woods doesn’t really have anything to fight back with except Rachel’s testimony.
Mzuka tries to work with Woods, but Woods is in too deep in his eyes to do anything but run to the courthouse and risk his life, even though Mzuka says it’s a suicide mission.
O is for… One Liners
Rachel: This is my reality, and it’s just become yours.
Woods: You know what’s more powerful that a mean bastard with too much power? A man with nothing to lose.
P is for… Profession
Throughout the film, the viewer has to uncover clues as to what Woods is doing in Johannesburg, and what his life is like (unlike, say, a Steven Seagal film where his character’s entire bio is recited at least once). Eventually it is revealed that Woods has been in prison for 18 months because he was involved in a hit-and-run that may have been related to him being an alcoholic. He’s currently divorced and trying to get back in touch with Angie, who does not trust him as far as she can throw him. Several times hints are made that Woods has to “stay out of trouble,” especially because he broke the terms of his parole by leaving the United States.
Woods is not terribly intelligent, as illustrated by his supreme ability to get lost, get robbed, and make stupid decisions.
Woods is terrified about drawing attention to himself, yet watches Rachel die. How could anyone believe his story? “She didn’t want a hospital because she didn’t want to be killed by the police.” Huh?
Q is for… Quagmire
Smith actually outlines Woods’s quagmire succinctly: Woods is now a wanted felon, completely alone in a foreign city, while the bad guy has access to the police force, and knows the color and plates of Vehicle 19, while also knowing Woods’s one weakness in Angie.
It is definitely not fun to be Michael Woods, especially when everything could have been avoided had he just gotten the rental car situation straightened out with Hertz.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
The film isn’t really over-the-top as far as effects and stunts (and quite clearly could have benefited from either).
From a logic stand point, no one in their right mind would watch someone die (Rachel) when he (Woods) could take her to a hospital. The argument that “They’ll kill me” isn’t super strong when the person making the protests dies in your arms from either blood loss or a punctured lung.
The only stunt in the film that isn’t chasing or manufacturing an explosion is when Woods drives his car through the grocery store. It is completely ridiculous to think he could maneuver through the aisles of the store, through the door into the receiving dock, then out the loading dock doors. Utterly unbelievable. What makes it worse was the way the cops were actually shooting at him in the grocery store without being concerned a civilian would be shot by mistake.
S is for… Sidekicks
Woods doesn’t really have an actual sidekick, though Rachel seems to want to use him as a sidekick to escape and get her testimony heard.
Woods does have temporary allies, such as the spray-painting team who distracts the cop who’d pulled him over, and the cop with whom he’s engaged in a standoff with at the courthouse, the one who realizes not all is well with Detective Smith when he breaks protocol.
T is for… Technology
The cellphones used in the movie seem awfully clunky, but it’s hard to tell if that’s because the technology has changed so much since then, or if it’s a commentary on Woods being fresh out of prison with an old phone.
It seems very strange that Woods is driving around Johannesburg without a GPS system, considering they are ubiquitous today. I even recently started using the map tool on my phone rather than print directions, and I am a terribly late adapter when it comes to technology (she says as she types this on her five and a half year old laptop). Maybe his phone is too old, or GPS wasn’t available, but it wouldn’t even be noticeable if he weren’t absolute rubbish at reading and folding a map.
Woods’s phone makes the tape rewindy noise as he scans through it; do digital recorders do that? I’ve never used one. Was the sound effect solely for the sake of the audience, whom I guess they figured would be too stupid to realize what he was doing?
U is for… Unexpected Romance
It’s kind of funny that this film flips this trope over; even as Woods is calling Angie every five minutes, it seems as if there’s a chance that he and Rachel could somehow form a romance over the course of the film. And then, of course, she dies.
At the end of the film it seems that Angie takes him back, what with him now being a hero and all. You can do better than her, Woods!
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
In a movie with the word “vehicle” in the title, you’d think the vehicle in question would be more bad-ass, but sadly this is not the case. All Vehicle 19 does is flip a bad guy’s car over, and later on knock down some scaffolding to block the police cars chasing it.
W is for… Winning
After Detective Smith gets Woods all wound up with his sadistic chuckle and set of threats, Woods somehow formulates a plan to get Rachel’s testimony heard. Or, at least, he finally finds the courthouse, thanks to tons of signs pointing it out. At the courthouse he is stopped in the middle of the intersection, police cars everywhere, but Woods sees a reporter doing a live broadcast. He jumps the curb and manages to take the reporter hostage inside Vehicle 19. While cops hold guns on him, Smith finally comes into the frame and pretends to negotiate with him. Smith’s intentions tip one of the other cops off to Smith being corrupt, and that cop holds his gun on Smith. Meanwhile, Woods realizes the reporter’s microphone is still on, and starts playing Rachel’s testimony. Smith shoots Woods. Somehow, considering that he had the reporter basically in his lap.
The last shots of the film are Vehicle 19 getting cleaned up to be rented out again, as various audio blurbs of Woods’s heroic actions and their positive results are heard. This is also the only shot in which the viewer actually sees Vehicle 19 directly. It is somewhat anticlimactic, as a beige minivan has a tendency to be.
X is for… X-Rays
Usually this category is reserved for the hero, who by the end of the films reviewed here is usually badly beaten, or has fallen from a height onto a floor or car, or who has been shot. In this film it fits the damsel/sidekick/victim of Rachel, who, after being shot through the chest, requests she not be taken to the hospital because she’ll be found there. But she dies anyway because it’s a bullet wound through her chest! What the heck! Go to the stupid hospital!!! Rachel, you actually need a doctor and a surgical team because you die!
Woods manages to get shot in the gut by Smith when he has a hostage draped over his entire front. Because the only camera angles in the film are from inside the car, it’s impossible to see how this could have happened.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problems Become Today’s Problems
None, really, except if Woods hadn’t decided to break parole to see his nagging ex-wife, he wouldn’t have had any of this happen. And if she hadn’t been such a horrible nag, he would have taken the time to get the proper car from Hertz, thus ensuring he never gets Vehicle 19.
Z is for… Zone, In The
Woods is about as bright as melted candle wax, but there is a faint glimmer when he steels himself to fight back. Of course, his plan ultimately requires a variable that he didn’t know was going to be there (the reporter), so maybe he was just winging it. Well, clearly he’s just winging it, but maybe if he hadn’t attracted the attention of every single cop in Johannesburg, a different sort of awesome plan would have been enacted.
In Summation, or in this case, what the heck was this film?
The opening credit sequence is really interesting, with the words floating in space over the city and foreground (kind of like Fringe), but the choice of foreground with poverty in Johannesburg was somewhat off-putting.
Between Vehicle 19 and District 9, I hope I never, ever have to go to Johannesburg. It looks like a horrible place. Sorry if you’re from there, but point me to some movies that paint it in a better light.
There’s a forever long sequence where Woods is stuck in a traffic jam, as he talks with Angie and gets nagged at by her. The film is only 85 minutes long; was it necessary to have this boring bit in it? Add interesting minutes, not minutes of watching a guy argue as he sits in traffic, long before there’s any sort of inciting incident to move the actual plot.
A girl tries to sell Woods a phone charger (albeit it’s really a front so her partner can steal from him), and Woods tells her he has a phone charger he just bought at the airport. Somehow it gives the impression that he might use it to, perhaps, charge his phone, but somehow his cell phone battery dying moves the plot later on. Are you kidding me? Who doesn’t charge their phone when it gives them the little “low battery” icon? Especially as it seems like he might be using his phone a lot? It’s infuriating to watch someone do something that no one would ever do.
When Woods leaves the airport, he tells Angie he’ll be at the American Embassy in twenty minutes. Okay, so he probably has some idea of where it is, if he can give an ETA. But no, he seems to need a map that he can’t read as he tries to drive and fold it at the same time. Also, he’s shown eating and drinking, as if he’s driving a while. Why not eat at the airport, or wait till he reaches his destination? Where did he even buy an individual juice box, and what moron drinks from a juice box while driving? It’s hard enough sometimes to get the straw out of the plastic, off the box, and into the little hole when it’s sitting on a table, let alone driving in aforementioned foreign city for the first time.
When Woods finds the gun and decides to ditch the car, he manages to drive out of the city and into a junkyard. Where the heck is he and why the heck is he there? He also, for a completely unfathomable reason, leaves the gun on the dashboard. What the heck is he doing??
Woods is told to go to Smuts Street. Rather than ask for directions from the guy telling him to go there, he actually appears to drive around aimlessly and ask strangers for directions. He even calls 411 assistance, which is something I don’t think any of us can comprehend as an existing thing anymore.
Yet again, Woods manages to drive outside the city, this time into an empty field. What the heck is he doing?!?!
After Rachel pops out of the trunk, they fight, and that’s perfectly understandable. How the heck long, though, are they driving around before they finally discuss what is happening and why she’s in a trunk and he doesn’t know what’s going on? The editing makes it look as if they drive for a while, but that can’t possibly be true.
There has got to be someplace they can go where the police can’t get to them. Why not the Embassy right away? It doesn’t even seem like Woods is trying to get to the Embassy once he finds Rachel. He’s just driving randomly around. And, okay, Rachel eventually decides that the courthouse will be safe. Did the idea just come to her while she was dying? What the heck? There was no reason at all for them to drive aimlessly when either the Embassy or the courthouse was where they both needed to go.
I’ve already said this, but Rachel doesn’t want to go to the hospital because the police will find her and kill her. Ten minutes later she dies of the bullet wound. That’s some awesome prioritizing.
So much of the film can’t even be described as “non action,” because so much of it is just him sitting there. The film is barely a “thriller” either. “Drama” is close, but it’s got too much violence.
Smith describes Woods as being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a phrase which I will always associate with John McClane in better movies. The film even has a sort of Die Hard homage within it with the way Woods only talks to Smith over the phone and only meets him at the very end.
Is the car wash scene supposed to be the “cleansing” or “rebirth” scene of the film, where Woods becomes a new man? Because it’s really cheesy. It’s also a bad sign when the moving parts of a car wash are the most exciting moments in a film up until that point.
It is absolutely pathetic how exciting it is to actually see the car, even if only in the picture on the news, and later in the reflection in the window. Like, the car is basically a character unto itself and we never even see it!
As Woods’s phone battery dies, because he’s an idiot and doesn’t use his shiny new charger, he just rambles nothing to Mzuka, he just says that his battery is dying. Tell the man where you are, you dumbass!
So… at the end of the film, as Vehicle 19 is getting prepped to be rented out again, it is magically beige again. Did they paint it? Did the red paint wash off? Is the audience supposed to forget the endless sequence where Woods gets philosophized to by the Mohawk Guy as his car gets painted?
Of all the movies I’ve watched so far for this site, Vehicle 19 is by far the least engaging, with the worst main character. It’s not even “good” bad, it’s just bad-bad. And it is unfortunate the cover actually makes the movie looks engaging. The cover makes it look like an actual action movie, with its police chase, gun, and exploded car. But… don’t even bother. It doesn’t work as an action movie, it doesn’t work as a thriller, and it doesn’t work for a fun-to-laugh-at terrible movie.