Disclaimer: I wrote this review a few months prior when the film initially released on DVD in North America. Since then, I have seen speculation on-line that this in fact is an official remake of Duel. Whether it is or is not licensed, the review itself stands.
The story behind Wrecker is fairly straight forward, if not a bit humorous. Best friends Emily (Anna Hutchison, The Cabin in the Woods, Go Girls) and Leslie (Andrea Whitburn, Poison Ivy: The Secret Society, Primary) are driving through the desert to meet up with other friends for a massive party. However, in typical road terror fashion, Leslie forgets which road at the fork to take. They wind up going left along devil’s pass, a road we’re introduced to when the car of another couple at the start of film dies. As they journey along the stretch of highway – void of all cell phone service mind you – they encounter a wrecker hauling the aforementioned car. Emily has a sensitivity to the smell of diesel, not to mention doesn’t feel like driving slowly behind it, so she passes the truck. And so begins your next hour of cat and mouse a la Duel.
And that’s a film reference not to take lightly, here. This is 1971’s Duel with just enough changed to possibly avoid potential plagiarism suits. In Duel, Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke, McCloud) plays a business man travelling on a long stretch of highway who passes a tractor trailer mostly due to the smell of deisel, as indicated with his coughing. Once he does, the driver then begins his pursuit in an early display of road rage. There’s a scene where the truck runs him off the road, but in Wrecker it drives Emily off where she nearly kills a child playing on the side road. The diner scene where Dennis confronts who he thinks is the driver is also left in Wrecker, though the fight scene is a little different given the main character confronting him in this film is female as opposed to male in the original. Even when the driver waves Emily around is exact, not to mention the final confrontation is similar, as is the railroad crossing scene, though iot plays out under slightly different circumstances with a better chance of survival for the heroines of this new production to keep the story moving along with little to no real tension.
Really, the only differences to the film are cosmetic at best, not to mention some simple post-production editing. Some of the key moments of tension from Duel are placed differently for the sake of keeping the story moving at a fluid enough pace, and some alterations to take into consideration gender, and the presence of two main characters at odds with the truck driver instead of one. It’s as if someone took Richard Matheson‘s script and copy-and-pasted a few things here and there following a quick night of adding in additional dialogue and modernizations in an attempt to make it seem original. But, this is only the first major hurdle this film is tripped up by, as the production ends up being another issue all together.
Wrecker touts itself as something by the producer of American Mary, which is true enough. John A. Curtis (Ripper, Xtro II: The Second Encounter) is one of the producers, along side Evan Tylor (Ripper, A Twist of Faith) and associate producer C. Scrivano (Toxin), all of which involved with that very film. The style and feel from American Mary is present enough to notice, but only if someone told you like the cover art to Wrecker does. This is a fairly different film visually, and it seems as though the crew didn’t quite know how to capture everything properly. By this, I mean most of the high speed chases are shot in a way that clearly shows the vehicles moving twenty-five miles per hour, maybe a little more, not to mention a number of stuttering camera shots that you could argue are from the shaking of the car if it weren’t for the fact that the appearance of lost frames per second didn’t also occur when the camera was stationary on the ground and filming at a distance. These two things are the most annoying aspects of the finalized product, and constantly pull you right out of the film, though there are plenty more to groan about.
But, if you’ve never seen Duel, then Wrecker will at least keep you mildly amused. The film itself isn’t really that entertaining, as the whole time you can’t help but feel it’s a good movie that’s been watered down for some reason. On top of that, a lot of the choices made our two main characters are fairly idiotic, not to mention you genuinely feel very little for them that we’re supposed to be rooting for other than Emily remaining faithful to her boyfriend until a phone call leads her to suspect he’s cheating again, and then basically decides to get revenge by sleeping with some guy at the party they never reach. We’ve all been there, so it’s a fairly base reason to feel anything for her. However, as the film goes on, you kind of lose that connection as she begins to break down, especially when the two become seperated, which is a whole other discussion that I can’t even bring up without treading into spoiler territory.
But, the biggest issue to be had with this film is that, well, wreckers don’t really operate the way this films wants you to believe. The vehicle in this film is clearly not a new rig, and definitely not one able to go over one hundred-and-twenty miles an hour without a problem. Hell, even the sports car of our lead characters handles as though it were a normal car driving twenty-five on a well paved road, but that’s not the point. Giant trucks cannot sneak up silently behind you and mow people down like a lion growling as it lunged just inches away from its prey. Even if we’re treading into a souped up version of some truck the creature from Jeepers Creepers were to drive, which it clearly isn’t from the many near-crawling car chases that occur, this vehicle would have crashed a number of times, or at the very least wobbled a tiny bit when somehow successfully over taking a jaguar moving well into the triple digits.
Finally there’s the lack of detail. Almost every shot following a chase scene shows the car in pristine condition. Even when the wrecker itself hits the car, you only get minor scrapes and dents akin to a small fender bender, which are just not possible given the bumpers of modern vehicles and their limited ability to completely withstand that of a giant speeding wrecker clearly from from the eighties or nineties. Even the ending just feels vacant and insulting, leaving what happens to said wrecker to the hands of computer graphics, and poor ones at that, leaving the conclusion feeling like a middle finger to the viewer.
I do have to give credit where it’s due, however, and that credit does go to the leading ladies. Anna and Andrea do a good job becoming believable carefree ladies intent on having a good time at a party, though the slow descent into madness due to the driver chasing them is a bit rocky on Leslie’s character. She acts like the rock sometimes, while others she’s as fragile as Emily can be. But, really, that’s the point as far as these two are concerned. There are many times where Leslie constantly tells Emily she needs to be stronger, something that finally peaks towards the end under dire circumstances. Again, while a well paced build, it’s flawed in the sense that it nearly mirrors Duel‘s outcome.
As already stated, if you’ve never seen the made-for-tv movie Duel, chances are you’ll at least appreciate this film for what it is. If you do, then you’ll know that what it is is a plagiarism lawsuit waiting to happen. This sleek female power modernization of Richard Matheson‘s classic tale (and final short story he ever wrote according to the man himself) is one younger audiences will lap up, and for good reasons here and there. Some of the key scenes from the original are still executed just as well, or in this case fleshed out a little better by having that second lead character present. But, from everything to slow car chases for safety’s sake instead of using stunt people who could get the right shots, down to what looked like Andrea Whitburn’s nipples being blurred out as poorly as the fate of the wrecker itself by the end of the film, Wrecker is just as big a rip-off as pretty much any Quentin Tarantino film.