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 Highwaymen
 Critic's Rating
   [B-]
 Date Posted
   29th June, 2004
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Cast: James Caviezel, Rhona Mitra, Frankie Faison
Director: Robert Harmon

Rhona Mitra. Remember that the name because it belongs our leading lady, a stunning English actress whose exquisite good looks should play a big part in "Highwaymen's" appeal. Interestingly her dreamy elegance (and inherently that of the grossly underwritten character she plays) builds a nice allegory to this film style over substance. But I'm not sure if director Robert Harmon is really interested in exploring themes that evoke emotional resonance. "Highwaymen" is, after all, designed as high-charged pulp, a rush of staggering car crashes and impressive stunts that last for a brisk eighty minutes.

The film begins with Rennie Cray (Jim Caviezel) as he witnesses his wife run over by Fargo, a serial killer who likes beautiful women especially when they are, pun intended, road kill. Whiz five years later and Cray, doctor and unassuming nobody, has become a man of seething vengeance who also drives a spiffy, customised '68 Plymouth Barracuda. He has been following Fargo through a trail of dead bodies in a twisted cat-and-mouse game. There is a fascinating twist Fargo is part man, part machine. His body was so mangled in a car crash that the doctors "built him from the ground up" with prosthetic limbs. This quirk adds a new dimension to the tension and diffuses much of the absurdity in the story structure (I guess if the screenwriters are willing to use a wheel-chair bound super villain then little else can cause offence). Fargo's latest prey is Molly (Rhona Mitra), our classic damsel in distress who needs Cray's help to stay alive. Mitra's character is a quivering mass of nothingness and serves only to soup up the confrontations between hero and evil maniac.

"Highwaymen," is a smart choice as the film's title. It draws a parallel between Cray and Fargo because in many ways they are cut from the same cloth. While Fargo collects a souvenir from his victims Cray ritualistically gathers his adversary's throwaway prosthetics in the trunk of his car. These two have provocative chemistry but the script aborts a satisfying conclusion to their long-standing feud. Another point - Cray is a badass, a man hell-bent on revenge; but Jim Caviezel underplays his character's deep-seated anger with an unnecessary disassociation. Though Caviezel is a wonderful actor his performance here is inappropriate. On the other hand, Colm Feore is pitch-perfect as Fargo. In full view only during the last few minutes, Feore effectively uses his voice to compose a psychopath that is both intelligent and frightening.

"Highwaymen" owes a lot to vintage road thrillers such as Spielberg's "Duel" and Harmon's very own 1986 cult-favourite "The Hitcher."  Featuring a delicious tapestry of peerless stunts and, well, Rhona Mitra, "Highwaymen" is high on ambition but low on originality. Nevertheless it succeeds in providing harmless entertainment even when the screenplay and logic fail miserably. - Adnan Khan

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