This film’s title is practically an open ‘kick me’ invitation to us reviewers looking for an easy angle, which offers us up a handy “it’s the film that’s the real wreck here” analogy on a plate. In fact, director John Mallory Asher has helmed a competently enough made slasher-lite, and clearly knows his way around a camera; the problem with “Wreckage” is not that it’s badly made or poorly acted, but simply that it is so utterly banal in every conceivable way. A cast of young, good-looking model teens decorate a plot which harks back to the early slasher boom of the eighties, but without any of the flair or knowing which Wes Craven brought to his postmodern take on the sub-genre when he successfully revived the slasher flick with his “Scream” franchise in the latter half of the nineties. Asher, a former child star of the movie spin-off TV series “Weird Science”, has switched places to take up position behind the camera over the course of the last decade, a period in which he became a regular director on the series “One Tree Hill”. His by-the-numbers attempt at horror looks pretty much like an episode of one of those glossy, maddingly trite, teen-appeal soap dramas – populated by an bland cast of terminally dull, stereotypical characters and written for an undemanding audience who just want cute guys and airbrushed girls in short skirts, whose tame proceedings are augmented by occasional, tastefully applied dabs of blood. Frankly this makes “Harper’s Island” look like a snuff movie by comparison – and yes, that is a member of the cast of “Harper’s Island” in the credits … along with one from “One Tree Hill” as well!
Of course, ‘bland’ is a subjective term, right? Well, not when your plot really does trot out every slasher cliché in the manual with seemingly no awareness whatsoever that it’s all been seen and done before (many, many times before!) and that your audience is consequently liable to be far ahead of the entirely predictable curve from fairly early on. The strange thing about the plotline of “Wreckage” is that you really only have to be paying attention to the names of the characters as they’re being introduced during the first fifteen minutes, to be able to predict from there on EXACTLY where the film is going for the rest of its running time. I’m not kidding. I sat there ticking off the plot moves and character types one by one (all of them thoroughly hackneyed already) and anticipating each attempt to wrong foot the audience, before, lo and behold, there it was in front of my eyes on the screen, like clockwork (a pointless exercise since it is really obvious who the killer is, just as long as you’re at all able to use your ears and understand the names of the characters when they’re announced!). After this we are ostensibly just marking time, waiting for the inevitable conclusion to arrive in which everyone thinks the mystery is solved, but the real killer then gives themself away by mentioning a piece of information they could never have known, unless …!
The film starts off by seemingly laying in place random jigsaw pieces in what promises to be an exceedingly convoluted puzzle, but then quickly turns into a completely unoriginal and uninspiring murder mystery that requires little ingenuity from the viewer in order to solve it (that doesn’t stop the clueless protagonists taking ninety minutes though): Two slack jawed kids goggle over cartoons on TV in their trailer trash home until one of them responds to the violent bullying of their tattooed father and the berating of their pot-smoking mom by blowing both his parents’ brains out with a revolver after they attempt to get him to turn the TV’s volume down. Cut to ten years later, and a pretty eighteen year-old driver, stranded on the highway in the middle of nowhere when her vehicle suffers motor trouble, has a scary experience when she encounters a far-too-polite-to-be-true stranger who insists on offering his help, just as a radio report interrupts with an important announcement: a very dangerous and violent prisoner has just escaped his padded cell at the nearby maximum security prison. Civilians are not to approach.
Included with the lengthy roll-call of animated production house logos at the top of the film (which runs to about six credits in a row) this rambling intro takes up about ten minutes of screen time, but only now do we come to the main deal: a quartet of handsome, gym-toned beautiful people firmly on the teen side of twentysomething are introduced, complete with an obligatorily cursory backstory that’s meant to be enough to get us to care about what happens to them. There’s war veteran turned grease monkey Jared (Mike Erwin) and his pretty blonde girlfriend Kate (Harper’s Island’s” Cameron Richardson) to whom he has just proposed; plus we have the groupe’s best friends Rick (Aaron Paul) and Jessica (Kelly Kruger), joining them to watch Jared go illegal drag racing on the public highway in his souped-up motor. Jessica has just announced she is pregnant and Rick is unsure about having to submit to the responsibilities of fatherhood and is even less sure of the long-term viability of the relationship in any case. However, more pressing concerns loom when Jared’s engine gives up the ghost in the middle of a long stretch of deserted highway, with no help in sight.
Surprise, surprise, no cell phone reception is possible (for unexplained reasons) and the foursome decide to walk on until, with darkness descending, they encounter an old wreaking yard, closed for the night, where Jared is sure they will be able to rustle up a spare fan belt for his beleaguered vehicle. Rick starts messing about with a loaded pistol (as you do) and manages to accidently injure Kate when a bullet rebounds and catches her in the side. His beloved fiancé now bleeding heavily, Jared frog marches to the nearest town, telling the others to stay put and continue to apply pressure to the bleeding wound. He winds up in the hick town of Lost Hills, where the doltish deputies and the grouchy Sheriff (Roger Perry) are trying to deal with the news of the previously mentioned escape of a dangerous lunatic from the state prison. They do manage to rustle up two medical nurses (Bevin Prince and Ruthanne Gibson) and accompany Jared back to the wrecking yard, though. The only trouble is no one appears now to be there! Only an ominous patch of blood remains on the spot Kate was accidently shot. The group conduct a short search of the area and soon make a gruesome discovery: the body of a female -- gutted and suspended from her feet on a towing crane! Although the Sheriff at first suspects him of this crime, Jared is determined to find his missing fiancé and his friends; but the disparate group of hunters soon finds itself turning into the prey of a masked killer, who seems set on hunting each of them down one by one among the car wrecks, before back-up can arrive.
Actually, the body count turns out to be unusually low, with most of the cast managing to survive to the final reel, although one sympathetic character does almost meet a horrendously unpleasant end, gets rescued in the nick of time, but is then dismissively dispatched in what amounts to a throwaway joke. We get the usual cliché involving a character, in this case a police deputy, who spends the whole movie being a brainless aggressive idiot who you hope will die horribly (Justin Allen), only to suddenly change character for no discernible reason and become sympathetic -- just before he does in fact die horribly! As I’ve mentioned, this part of the movie is completely predictable plot-wise. But, call me a soft touch, I still found the potential tedium somewhat relieved by the antics of Scoot McNairy who plays Frank, the yokel cousin of the owner of the wrecking yard, who turns up half-way through to find out what all these people are doing dying on his premises. Suddenly the film takes a turn into broad comedy, and considering the derivative nature of the drama, it is all the better for it. McNairy plays the character as broad as it is possible to be, and is a million miles removed from the romantic lead he recently played in the apocalyptic alien doomsday movie “Monsters”, sounding like The Simpsons character Cletus and lurching about in oil-stained dungarees like one of the more inbred members of the family in “Deliverance”, McNairy tops off the physical performance by sporting a pair of huge, erratically positioned, heavy-framed spectacles with a maximum lens magnification that turn his eyes into golf ball-sized orbs trapped in a goldfish bowl.
Nevertheless, a few amusing scenes aren’t enough to inspire much enthusiasm for the rest of this middling drama. Developments play out much as one always suspected they would from the beginning , without any further twists above those which are to be completely expected in a generic slasher plot. The direction is relatively slick, although very much on the conventional side; the performances are good enough for the bland set of characters as they’re written, with only McNairy’s comedy turn really standing out as anything special. It would be churlish to warn anyone off buying or renting such a film as this (there’s a great deal worse out there) but it’s hard to recommend it either. The UK DVD from Chelsea Films is also pretty indifferent, offering only the film (with a choice of 5.1 or 2.0 stereo audio tracks) and nothing else in the form of extras.
If you’re the sort of slasher obsessive who has to see every entry in the genre, then you might well quite enjoy watching as the predictable plot rolls towards its predictable conclusion. As for everyone else, you can safely cruise on by without slowing to view the tame carnage at the side of this road -- it’s nothing you won’t have seen before. Move along, there is nothing to see here.