Blu-Ray Review: ‘Carjacked’

‘A great performance by Stephen Dorff anchors an otherwise forgettable, poorly conceived genre exercise.’

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Ordinarily you’d expect a filmmaker to sympathize with their hero’s problems. In Carjacked… not so much. The movie tells a simple story of a woman, played by Maria Bello who, along with her child, gets carjacked by a bank robber, played by Stephen Dorff. It’s not high concept, but being held at gunpoint is plausible enough that the audience, at least, can put themselves in the hero’s position. But it’s such a thin, straightforwardly dangerous situation that director John Bonito and screenwriters Sherry and Michael Compton can’t join us. They’re forced to exert so much energy keeping Bello in peril that they fail to make her plight seem particularly involving. It’s hard to stay on the side of a heroine who dials “411” instead of “911” and fails to recognize her mistake even though that number “4” is on a glowing screen right in front of her face.

Yes, we’re in “idiot plot” territory with Carjacked, an otherwise fairly brisk potboiler that benefits from one of the more charismatic performances of Stephen Dorff’s career. Dorff’s carjacker, Roy, delicately balances genuine menace, borderline madness and eerie likability and, as such, makes the castor oil go down fairly smooth. But he can’t quite suppress the regular gag reflex brought on by ill-conceived storytelling. Bello is on the phone with the police, who are begging her to describe the car Dorff is in, but she doesn’t recognize the make or model. Rather than tilt her head slightly to look at the license plate she abandons the phone to chase after him herself. Let us speak little of that, since it feels like that’s what the filmmakers did.

Movies like Carjacked are often considered an exercise for directors, and in the hands of the right one – Hitchcock is the obvious example – they force talented people to use every trick at their disposal to keep a claustrophobic experience exhilarating. John Bonito, whose first film (The Marine) I have not seen, does a fairly admirable job of filming the action in a clear and somewhat varied fashion, but he’s hindered by an unimaginative take on the material. The film seems relieved to finally get to the climactic car chase and fight scenes, and they’re certainly pleasing, even though Dorff appears to have contracted a nasty case of nigh invulnerability after his experience filming Immortals. Bello, ordinarily a standout actor, has an awkward character arc that is discussed ad nauseum – oh, she needs to assert herself – and then dramatized clumsily. The final act plays like a rushed amalgam of revenge movies, crime thrillers and Breakdown, and while it’s a nice change of pace for so much to start happening at once, it also implies that many of the folks involved would rather be making another film entirely. I can’t blame them. A major turning point late in the movie could have been easily avoided if Bello’s son (Connor Hill of the upcoming Contraband) had simply said anything whatsoever, but he didn’t, because otherwise Carjacked wouldn’t have had a turning point late in the movie. It’s a vicious cycle, that kind of screenwriting, and it’s only broken because the movie has to end sometime.

Carjacked comes to straight to Blu-Ray with a pleasing but unimpressive transfer that has more to do with the film’s visual style than any kind of actual video issues. The confined nature of the plot results in an audio scheme that makes little use of the rear channels but seems apt for the material. Only a single special feature appears on the disc, a “Making Of” documentary that I imagine few viewers will bother to access. Unlike the film itself, the Blu-Ray presentation is never anything less than serviceable, but, again like the film itself, it never rises above our meager expectations either.

A great performance by Stephen Dorff, possibly at his best since the underseen Blood and Wine, anchors an otherwise forgettable, poorly conceived genre exercise that could have really used a rewrite or three. There’s a fun, albeit simple story to be told here with genuine thrills constantly threatening to rear their merciful heads, but failing to actually show up in time to save the film from being a sub-par viewing experience. Carjacked is full of gas.