Travis Knight (Harley Cross) is a nine-year-old boy who witnessed a gangland shooting, with the result the Mafia are very interested to speak with him. To save him from this unwanted attention, he is taken into protective custody by the police which turns out to mean staying with his parents in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, away from his Texas home, with F.B.I. agents dotted around, ready with their firearms to gun down anyone who should arrive to cause deadly trouble. Or at least that's the idea, but one day a couple of hitmen, the older Cohen (Roy Scheider) and the younger, brasher Tate (Adam Baldwin) show up and do just that...
This was the second directorial try of screenwriter Eric Red, who had made his name with the cult thriller The Hitcher not long before and presumably it was hoped that more of the same success would greet this, which was similar in that it was also a suspense piece set on the road in between here and there. This was not to be the case, however, and a release to cinemas had it doing meagre business, with the home video release not doing a tremendous amount either, unlike the way other low budget movies would find their audience at the time. However, over the years Cohen and Tate did drum up a little sympathy among the small few who had seen it, and if they weren't claiming his efforts for a must see, they did have favourable words to say for it.
If anything, Red's script was too straightforward, meaning once you had worked out the hitmen were set for embarrassment at best at the hands of this little kid, not unlike Home Alone set in a moving car, though probably just as violent, then you would be more or less anticipating what the ending would play out as, even if it was rather more nihilistic for the bad guys than is often the case. Once the massacre at the farmhouse is over, we cut to nighttime scenes of Travis in the back seat of the vehicle as it speeds down the highway, Tate at the wheel and revealing himself to be something of a complete psychopath who would have no qualms whatsoever about killing the kid, no matter that they're both supposed to bring him back to their bosses for questioning.
Though you have to assume the bosses would kill the child after that themselves, which makes it all the more imperative he should get away, with even the comparatively reasonable Cohen someone who has seen a lot of the worst of the world, and it has made his heart ice cold. Much of this played out in the car they were travelling in, making it one of a subgenre of movies that do so, from Mario Bava's Rabid Dogs the decade before to the more drama-based one man show Locke of the twenty-first century, though in this case there were scenes where the characters got away from the confines of the automobile, especially when, say, Travis jumps out of the back seat and tries to escape through the roaring traffic, though with horrible inevitability he is caught over and over again.
You may be aware that there is no Hollywood movie, even an independent effort such as this, which would think of bumping off a child character ordinarily, and if it did they would be exceptional circumstances, yet Baldwin convinced as the sort of heartless character who would be prepared to do so as the cops closed in, and he made an provocative double act with the world weary Scheider. Nevertheless, what you had here was your basic Grimm's fairy tale updated to a road movie setting, only there were two big bad wolves or two gingerbread house witches, and a male Red Riding Hood or one Hansel to outwit them. It actually became darkly amusing to watch the apparently helpless boy draw on all his reserves of ingenuity to contrive various ways to get one over on his captors, and Red was aware of the humour though did not allow it to dominate. This was cut for violence before it was granted a rating, but it's still pretty bloody for all that, one of a number of indies taking the extreme path for keeping its audience on tenterhooks in a modest but satisfying work. Music by Bill Conti.
In a review of Near Dark from DVD Delirium Volume 1 film critic and Video Watchdog contributor Nathaniel Thompson wrote that Eric Red's 'subsequent tragic history taints his entire body of work as a screenwriter.' Do you know what he's on about?
18 May 2015
He caused a fatal car crash then tried to commit suicide at the scene. Sorry you asked now, aren't you?
19 May 2015
What is it with Hollywood film directors and these horrifying hit-and-run incidents? Busby Berkeley, Roger Avary, John McTiernan. Seriously people, get it together.