Opened: May 2, 1997 | Rated: R
I was a little hesitant heading in to see "Breakdown." A movie with a tag line like "It could happen to you" obviously had very little thought going into the ad campaign, and with Kurt Russell in the lead and a yuppie nightmare plotline -- well, I had settled into the notion that this movie was going to stink.
The opening credits had me even more worried -- produced by Dino De Laurentiis ("Flash Gordon" and other high camp) and Spelling Films (yes, that Spelling). That's a lot of cheese for one movie.
But after the unavoidably predictable setup of a yuppie couple's new car jerking to a halt in the Arizona desert and the wife (Kathleen Quinlan) vanishing after accepting a ride to a pay phone, "Breakdown" manages a constant, paranoid suspense by never revealing more about what's really happened to the wife on than the hero himself knows.
After discovering a loose wire that caused the car to croak, he drives to the diner his wife was being taken to, but the creepy inhabitants there deny having seen her or the trucker who gave her a lift (the mysteriously nefarious J.T. Walsh).
He catches up to Walsh with a cop in tow who all too easily buys the trucker's denials. "Officer, I've never seen this man before in my life," he says, and the cop sends him on his way. Quinlan's disappearance begins to feel like a conspiracy.
Russell entices a frustrating empathy gives the film a panicked, Hitchcockian aroma that follows his grade-A suburbanite husband where ever he goes in search of his spouse.
Then comes a ransom demand.
In the last half of the movie, Russell's reluctant hero rides an adrenaline rush to attempt a dramatic rescue. Just when "Breakdown" hints at getting too dreadfully serious for it's own good, co-writer and director Jonathan Mostow takes off the Hitchcock hat, dons his best Sam Raimi posture and plunges into a gratuitous "Starsky and Hutch" car chase finale.
Complete with sideswipes, spin-outs, rolling crashes and an 18-wheeler driving off a bridge, it's the perfect, tongue-in-cheek way to cap off a great suspense story that threatened to detour into movie-of-the-week territory.