Tom and Elizabeth Robinson are just regular teachers at a Vegas high school. But when Elizabeth is out riding her horse in the desert, she sees a truck-full of half-dead girls and a couple of guys in suits shooting people. One of them happens to be notorious gangster James Dolan, whose entire human trafficking operation - and very liberty - could now be jeopardised by her testimony. Put into witness protection, Dolan still finds his way to the happy couple and manages to silence the young wife, leaving Tom Robinson a hollow, broken, frequently drunk, wreck of a man. He doesn't trust the authorities to catch this man, and does not much care about his own life, so what does he do? He buys the biggest handgun that he can find and goes to find Dolan, with the horribly disfigured spectre of his dead wife to haunt him on his journey.
Dolan's Cadillac is an odd little revenge thriller. The story has been done literally thousands of times before, but occasionally you can still find an enjoyable 'new' variation. Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness was a thoroughly entertaining return to duty for 'Mad Max' himself (even if it was a remake) so it is clear that there is still life in the ballooning sub-genre. The twist with Dolan's Cadillac is that it was based on a short story by Stephen King, and it is definitely infused with the acclaimed author's trademark style.
Over the years, we have seen some decent results from adaptations of King's work. Carrie, The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile and It are amongst the best. The Stand is one of my favourite renditions, but just goes all pear-shaped with the 'hand of God' ending, and Dreamcatcher could have been so much better than it was. And there have been around a hundred other interpretations of his various novels - both big and small, on the big and small screen. Honestly, they don't all work well, but the majority of them have that slightly strange King 'aura', set in almost fantastical worlds which often have either aliens or demons at play within them. They at least have an unusual feel to them, and Dolan's Cadillac, whilst not supernatural or mystical in any significant way, has that same quality about it.
Personally, I don't think this movie is going to have a very wide market. It is a low-budget straight-to-home video production, with nobody famous in it (but Slater) and nothing really standout about it. The story is hampered by being yet another revenge thriller, and the film itself limited by the distinctly average directing. But it is still strangely very Stephen King, and that gives it a pleasantly familiar taste, a marginally endearing quality that gives the end result some worth as a watch-once rental. Sure, it's not exactly a good movie, but it has some style to it, and the protracted, dialogue-driven conclusion is actually quite intriguing, even if the setup seems rushed, and even if the rest of the movie is strictly by-the-numbers to begin with.
It is difficult to tell whether the cast are mostly to blame, or whether they were just plagued by a vision-less director. Christian Slater is certainly a good choice for Dolan, sufficiently evil but not totally devoid of morality, and prone to random philosophical musings which make his a more interesting character. Wes Bentley, a pretty indistinguishable bit-part actor who was in American Beauty but disappeared soon after (and eventually landed in rehab) does not seem quite right as the distraught, tortured husband, and One Tree Hill's Emmanuelle Vaugier did not even have the acting chops to suit TV soap, so she really does not stand a chance here. Had they relied a bit more heavily on Slater, this movie may have worked better (as he is the only one really pulling his weight) but since the story is really more about Robinson than Dolan, it falls down by resting too heavily on the shoulders of Bentley.
Where the movie works is in its word-for-word use of the short story, with Robinson's disconcerting narration and Dolans random monologues the highlights in this lacklustre affair. The setting also works wonders, the arid desert offering an almost alien Martian landscape for the story to unfold in, and made yet more creepy by some suitably eerie scoring. And some minor details are even cleverly rendered - like Dolan's discomfort at the idea of having to shift his operation from trafficking women to trafficking children, showing that the guy is not just comic-book evil, and also the distinct horror elements of the dead body in the bed with its mouth sewn shut. But this is all of little consolation for what is still a pretty insipid production on the whole.
Given a bigger budget, perhaps slightly better direction and maybe a few better-chosen actors, this may have been quite an interesting, atmospheric adaptation of the moody King short story, but the end result here is lacklustre and limited in most respects, and feels more like the kind of movie that you would catch on a quiet Saturday night in, than one that you would go out of your way to add to your collection.
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