Monday, September 29, 2008

DAY 318--ROUTE 666

I was kind of surprised by this 2001 offering from director William Wesley, expecting it to be the same brain-frying, derivative idiocy that usually lurks on video store shelves. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking THE SEVEN SAMURAI here, but ROUTE 666 is the kind of horror film that's becoming increasingly rare: admittedly lightweight, allowing you more time to contemplate another bowl of popcorn than its plot, but provides enough twists to keep it consistently entertaining.

Wesley, who also directed the little-seen 1988 shocker SCARECROWS, spins a tight, action-oriented horror yarn: Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori Petty play a pair of U.S. Marshals sent escort a mob informant on the run (THE X FILES's Steven Williams) back to California for his testimony; when gun-toting thugs show up to take Williams out of the picture, the three leads--along with a second carload of victims, er, Marshals led by PET SEMATARY's Dale Midkiff--take off down a deserted stretch of desert road in order to elude them. Of course, if you've been paying attention to the title, you know that bad things lie in wait for them, literally in the road.

ROUTE 666 wastes little time getting the action started, and pauses only to flesh out his characters a bit or build upon its backstory, though a great deal of the action feels like a poor man's John Woo and doesn't work as well as it should. But when it gets all cylinders firing it plays very much in the '80s buddy-action mold (imagine if Romero had directed 48 HRS.), with nice sense of momentum and plenty of back-and-forth banter between the cast. It's pulpy, to be sure, but it still delivers the goods.

Nobody here offers an Oscar-caliber performance, though Phillips and Petty (who've fallen a bit from more high-profiled fare) refuse to phone it in. In fact, it's the fairly well-rounded characterization that makes it better than average; yes, Phillips's past fits into the storyline a little too conveniently and sets up a sappier-than-needed ending, but it's sure beats listening to them talk about their favorite G.I. Joe characters.

Wesley tosses in a couple of novel conceits, such as restricting his undead to asphalt surfaces, and even finds twists in the newer material. Not exactly a gorefest, but enough red stuff gets spilled to satisfy the grue brigade. ROUTE 666 was a good time, and a pleasant diversion from my recent shot-on-video stagnation.

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