Canada, UK / 105 minutes (European release; US release is cut to 89 minutes) / color / Film Bridge, Minds Eye, Footprint, Prescience Dir: Jeff Beesley Pr: Alain Gagnon, Stephen Onda, Rhonda Baker Scr: Richard Dooling Story: “Dolan’s Cadillac” (1985, Castle Rock) by Stephen King Cine: Gerald Packer Cast: Christian Slater, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Wes Bentley, Greg Bryk, Aidan Devine, Al Sapienza, Karen LeBlanc, Eugene Clark, Robert Benz.
While horse-riding in the desert near Las Vegas, pretty young schoolteacher Elizabeth Robinson (Vaugier) comes across prostitution slave trafficker Jimmy Dolan (Slater) and his principal sidekick Chief (Bryk) committing multiple murder; a truck has arrived in which, because of a ventilation failure, most of the women have suffocated. Elizabeth escapes but drops her cellphone.
Elizabeth and her somewhat wimpish husband Tom (Bentley), also a teacher, report the incident to the local sheriff (Benz), but he makes it plain he doesn’t intend to do anything—as far as he’s concerned, the dead are just “pepper-bellies” and, the fewer of them that there are, the better. On getting home the Robinsons discover a dead woman in their bedroom, her lips sewn shut in a clear message; clearly Dolan’s people have traced Elizabeth by means of the dropped cellphone.
The case is taken seriously by Federal Agent Fletcher (Sapienza), who has been after Dolan for years. Elizabeth is eager to testify, so Fletcher puts the Robinsons into a witness-protection plan . . . which fails when Elizabeth, discovering she’s at last pregnant, disobeys instructions, leaves the hotel where they’ve been secreted and climbs into the family car, which promptly explodes.
Victims of Dolan’s cruelty are disinterred from their desert burial place.
Tom starts drinking a lot. The fact that Elizabeth’s “ghost” appears to him at frequent intervals to offer advice doesn’t help. Eventually he pulls himself together, invests in a revolver about as long as his forearm, and, as his voiceover narration rather clunkily explains, “I watched and I waited, and I waited and I watched. I saw him come. I saw him go. . . . When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your hearing burns.”
The trick is to try to catch Dolan outside when he’s not safely ensconced in his customized armor-plated Cadillac SUV. The one time Tom gets anywhere close to achieving this, his efforts are interrupted by a gang of Chinese slavers who have a quarrel of their own with Dolan.
Tom tries again, this time following Dolan’s Cadillac along the highway on one of the criminal’s regular trips to LA. Unfortunately he’s identified by Chief when stuck immediately behind the Cadillac at a detour necessitated by roadworks. Dolan and Chief follow him into a restroom where they beat him mercilessly and Dolan, taunting him as a spineless nobody, condemns him not to death but to life.
Tom goes back to drinking. The kids he’s supposed to be educating suffer a radical decrease in teaching quality, as Mr. Robinson turns up for classes either drunk or hungover—you can tell he’s hungover because he has crassly heavy makeup smudged all around his eyes. Luckily summer vacation arrives.
Fletcher takes Tom to the place in the desert where Elizabeth saw the murders. Agents have finally discovered what Dolan and Chief did to the women who survived the trip from Mexico: they buried the truck in sand with the women still inside. Recalling his own experience of a detour in mid-desert, Tom gets an idea. Dolan’s next trip to LA will be on the Labor Day weekend, which the road crews take as a holiday. Tom wangles a job on the crew, and, come the Labor Day weekend, excavates a hole in the road further along from the detour, covers it with a tarpaulin, removes the detour signs, and waits for Dolan’s Cadillac to turn up . . .
Dolan contemplates moving into a new line of business.
The SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) this ain’t, but Dolan’s Cadillac isn’t nearly such a bad movie as its reputation implies (it’s marginally surprising it went DTV). As indicated above, the screenplay is more than a tad hamfisted in places; also, some sequences seem interminably protracted, perhaps inevitably since King’s original novella didn’t have the most complicated of plots, barely enough, even with the customary augmentation, to carry a full-length feature. But there are many good qualities, too. Dolan’s vacuous philosophizing, insertion of poetic quotes into general conversation—a habit shared by Chief—and tirades of self-justification might seem hokey, but it’s actually pretty welcome in a movie of this kind to come across instances of the screenwriter assuming the audience is moderately educated.
Slater is fairly good in the role of the vile, abonimably cruel scumbag; to choose a single example, his facial reaction to the proposal by his contact Roman (Devine) that he shift his sex-trafficking enterprise from adult women to children—an instinctive revulsion is instantly overlaid by a look of shrewd calculation—is a small masterpiece of characterization. Vaugier is appropriately pretty but has a fairly small part. Bentley tackles his difficult worm-turning role adequately. The overall sense, however, is that the tale could and probably should have been told in far less time.
On Amazon.com: Dolan’s Cadillac