The Dumb and the Dubious
I've always thought there was a certain arrogance inherent in car-centric movies, and Redline confirms it. Sure, a sense of mystique surrounded Vanishing Point's Dodge Challenger-driving hero, and it was goofy fun seeing Paul Walker go up against Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. But Redline takes all the fun out of racing cars, mostly due to its main characters being inexplicably oblivious or apathetic toward the damage they're causing -- and it's flat-out dumb to boot.
Like scores of straight-to-video movies before it, Redline is set in the realm of illegal street racing. This is a fast-paced, winner-take-all world in which those like movie mogul Jerry (Tim Matheson) and music producer Infamous (Eddie Griffin) bet on whether or not drivers the likes of fresh-faced and cocky Jason (Jesse Johnson) can handle competing on public roads at dangerous speeds.
This lifestyle is what two individuals, Carlo (Nathan Phillips) and Natasha (Nadia Bjorlin), happen to stumble onto around the same time. Carlo is Jason's Iraq veteran brother, the latter being the go-to driver of their corrupt and extremely eccentric uncle Michael (Angus Macfadyen). Natasha, whose father was a famous driver who got killed in a nasty crash, is lured by the prospect of a recording contract. A high-stakes race forces Natasha into the driver's seat she's been trying to avoid for years, only to result in a tragedy that teams her up with Carlo in an attempt to put an end to Michael's careless ways once and for all.
Movies like this need to be taken not merely with a grain of salt but with the entire shaker. Redline is part of a cinematic breed where the only things that matter are if the cars are fast and the women gorgeous. That's all well and good, except the experience of watching Redline provides an excuse for its own existence similar to Paris Hilton's explanation of why people should care about her.
The great movie car chases, from The French Connection to Ronin, are all memorable because of two things: 1) we're rooting for the people involved, and 2) there's a crisp sense of danger, an urgency that comes from the heroes dividing their time between trying to take down the bad guys without getting anyone hurt in the process. The problem with Redline (one of many, mind you) involves its incredibly mean and selfish streak. Most of its racing sequences are set during heavy traffic, but instead of trying to avoid causing damage, the characters welcome it, treating city streets as their own private playground and thinking nothing of causing a few fender-benders or flipping over a van. But when a major character bites the big one in an accident, the movie treats it as a tragedy of epic proportions, thus showing its own two-faced nature.
A shifty moral compass isn't the only thing screwy about Redline. The racing sequences are directed in that jerky, kinetic, MTV-style of cinematography that's more liable to inspire one to reach for their Dramamine rather than be on the edge of their seats. The story starts off innocently enough, with the movie's first half playing out as your basic, harmless racing flick. Then, at about the halfway mark, Redline becomes a nasty pile-up of ridiculous elements that worsens as the ending credits grow closer. For no reason, the script starts including subplots that weren't referenced in the slightest beforehand, such as Micheal owing money to mysterious gangsters and the death of Natasha's father being more than an accident.
The "acting" here doesn't help either, with the beautiful Bjorlin as your standard issue Tough Girl, Johnson as James Van Der Beek's long-lost brother, Macfadyen looking like Wolverine after he lets himself go, and Phillips as a guy whose random violent outbursts add some comedic value to a picture that probably didn't intend to have any.
Maybe the only reason Redline exists is to allow producer Daniel Sadek to show off some of the exotic cars from his personal collection. But for viewers like myself who aren't interested in cars, once that aspect of Redline is taken out of the equation, the only thing left is a glorified B-movie that doesn't seem to know it's running on empty.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "PG-13" for violence, illegal and reckless behavior, sexual content, language and drug references.)