Phantom Racer (2009)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Greg Evigan, Nicole Eggert, Breanna O'Brien, Chad Willett, Winston Recket, Luciano Carro
Directed by Terry Ingram
If not for the whole possessed killer car aspect of the plot of Syfy's Phantom Racer, I would have sworn I was watching some family melodrama made for Country Music Television about an ex-stock car racer with a guilty conscience over a fatal crash he blames himself for returning to his hometown after fifteen some odd years to finally confront the emotional impact of that tragedy and reunite with the woman he left behind and the daughter he never knew he had. It possesses that kind of low-key, home-spun earnestness with brief flourishes of light comedy.
But then the killer race car would go on the attack, and the film's straitlaced tone would instantly switch gears and go vrooming into outright silliness. Climb into the driver's seat and get your chest cavity caved in by the seat belt harness. Decapitation by automatic windshield. Windshield wipers that can slice a person’s face off. I still want to know what exactly was in the trunk that dragged that one guy in and then spit him out cut in half from waist down. Not just laughable, the kills are surprisingly gory given the PG-rated melodramatic tone of the rest of the film.
Those tonal shifts have a tendency to be awkward. Maybe it's just me, but when a car powered by a supernatural force is trying to kill me and I just watched it turn one person into roadkill and peel out on the face of another and I'm trying to make a speeding getaway with a single mom and a teenage girl also being targeted by the deathmobile, that just doesn't strike me as the right moment to engage in a very laid back "What do you want to do when you grow up?" conversation with the teenage girl.
Greg Evigan stars as J.J. Sawyer, an ex-racer turned race car-hauling truck driver (sans a monkey sidekick named Bear) returning to his small hometown for the first time since immediately skipping town following a fiery crash that claimed the life of a guy named Cutter, his top rival on both the race track and in the romantic arena. Almost immediately he runs into the woman he and Cutter fought over, Tammy (Nicole Eggert with a head of vintage Seventies "Farrah" hair), who now has a rebellious teenage daughter. That daughter, Jesse, has a chip on her shoulder whenever the topic turns to the subject of the father she never knew, in large part because she doesn't seem to know for sure who her father is. Gee, I can’t imagine where that storyline is headed, especially given all those scenes of J.J. and Jesse bonding.
I've got a question. How is it that Greg Evigan appears to have aged less in the last 20 years than Nicole Eggert and he's already got 20 years on her?
I've got an even better question. Is it really more expensive to stage a car wreck these days than it is to CGI one? The events of Phantom Racer all hinge upon a fatal race crash in the opening flashback, and it is one of the most ineptly staged wrecks I've ever seen.
Two cars are sprinting neck and neck to the finish line; one car experiences mechanical problems that cause it to begin flipping in the air. The flipping car is computer animated and the physics of the crash are totally unrealistic. An abrupt jump cut later and the car that wrecked is upside down, the driver of it emerging slightly banged up, but the other car that we never see crash is now totaled and on fire and the driver burns to death. I can't help but think of all the television shows and low budget action movies made in my lifetime that successfully pulled off dangerous stunt car crashes on a regular basis that looked more realistic than the computer animated cop-out this production resorts to.
As coincidence would have it, J.J. also bumps into Cutter's mechanic brother just as he's finally finished rebuilding his late brother's red #66 race car. Just in time for that red #66 race car to mysteriously rev to life and go on a killing spree.
That Cutter has suddenly come back from the dead to go on a homicidal rampage with his car is a matter of suspension of disbelief. Cutter's motivations for doing so are a matter of iffy writing. We learn next to nothing about this Cutter guy prior to his death other than he was highly competitive with J.J. and jealous of Tammy's affection for him. Everyone except J.J. already agrees the accident was not his fault, and a revelation about the events will further prove Cutter was as much to blame. That hardly translates into reasoning for coming back from the dead seeking murderous vengeance. But then Tammy explains with a single sentence that Cutter was always mean. A deceased racer patiently waited well over a decade for someone to rebuild his race car just so he could return to spiritually possess it and turn people into roadkill for no other reason than because he's a prick. Mean people suck.
Decent acting and the campy car kills are the only things keeping Phantom Racer from completely crashing and burning. Too much downhome soap opera in-between the car-nage, and let's face it ... an awful lot of this film is going to look entirely too familiar to anyone who has ever seen Christine, The Car, The Wraith, Maximum Overdrive, Hell on Wheels, or any other supernatural car movie to come along over the years. This one doesn't bring anything new to the table aside from windshield wipers that can cut your face off. I don't recall having seen that before.
2 out of 5
Discuss Phantom Racer in the Dread Central forums!