Director/Writer: Jeremy Rush
Cast: Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garret Dillahunt
Runtime: 82 min
Wheelman has all the ingredients of a movie I’d absolutely adore – a short, taut action thriller about a getaway driver (one of the most iconic archetypes of action cinema and definitely a personal favourite) starring Frank ‘I-don’t-love-you-as-much-as-Jon-Bernthal-but-you’re-not-far-off’ Grillo.
I’d be all over this movie even without the stylistic choice of having the camera pretty much never leave the car (think Locke with Tom Hardy if it was an action movie), but that definitely sweetens the deal.
So how come I’m not gushing over Wheelman on social media or sending obnoxious messages to my close friends about it? Well, I’m sad to say it’s just not that great.
Let’s start with some positives though – Wheelman is definitely a looker. Keeping the camera mostly glued to the inside of the car not only gives the movie a distinct feel, it leads to a whole bunch of pretty striking shots. Plus, you gotta love the symbolism of the movie being rooted to the car, much like its protagonist, or indeed a lot of characters from that same mold.
Grillo is a solid, charismatic lead, which is obviously important in a movie where you’ll be spending about 90% of the time with him. Wheelman’s short length also means that for all its flaws, one thing you can’t accuse it of is wasting your time. There’s just enough good or interesting about it to outweigh the bad and the boring.
The main thing that holds Wheelman back is the writing, which is on the dull side of generic. Characters talk a lot, but rarely have much of substance to say – a lot of the dialogue ends up being swearing or asking the same questions over and over again, which quickly gets monotonous.
Much like with Locke, the decision to almost exclusively stay inside a car throughout the movie has a few drawbacks. There are times when it feels too much like a needless restriction, making me yearn for at least a short break.
The characters come in broad strokes, which fits given the kind of genre fare this is, but the mediocre writing sadly makes them mostly unremarkable. It’s up to the movie’s signature style to serve as its personality and it works well enough.
My biggest takeaway from Wheelman was that it felt like a missed opportunity. It just doesn’t have the impact a movie like this should. Still, I got a bit of a kick out of it. I can’t say I’d go out of my way to recommend it to people, but I wouldn’t tell them to stay away either.