”The Wraith” Review

The Wraith Titles

Director: Mike Marvin

Writer: Mike Marvin

Well now, here’s a slice of the 80’s that I’ve somehow managed to miss when I was a kid. It’s astonishing that there is a movie that I haven’t yet seen where a mysterious avenger is dressed like a robot biker superhero wielding a futuristic shotgun and he’s driving a car that looks like KITT’s bastard son. Well now I finally watched it and…well, let’s dig deeper.

The moment kids had their first mental boners.

The moment when kids had their first mental boners.

A mysterious stranger Jake (Charlie Sheen) rides into a small town gaining interest from Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), a local hottie whose former boyfriend Jamie was killed violently some time ago and Packard Walsh, a leader of gang of delinquents who aims to be Keri’s one and only. Keri doesn’t know that it was Packard with his buddies who killed him. Packard with his thugs terrorizes the town (including Jamie’s brother) and throwing illegal highway races to “win” the loser’s car. Soon after Jake’s arrival another character wheels in town. A mysterious avenger, who has his sights aimed at Packard’s crew. He participates in a car race duel arranged by Packard’s gang. Only the races don’t end with the thugs winning that beautiful Turbo Interceptor, but with the fiery destruction’s of the unfortunate villains who make the mistake of challenging the helmet head.

The moment when kids that their first actual boners.

The moment when kids that their first actual boners.

Director Mike Marvin also wrote this and it’s pretty clear what the guy’s influenced by: namely Mad Max, Death Wish, The Punisher and Saturday morning cartoons. The design on the space car and the avenger’s suite is really cool in its own right and if this were a cartoon, it would’ve been successful as a toy set. Packard’s posse is also very reminiscent of those kid’s cartoons. They’re straight out of TMNT or Captain Planet.

The film’s really all over the place and it oddly enough spends most of its running time with the villains. Nick Cassavettes really tries to be a villain to remember, but the writing lets him down constantly and he comes off as douchey Michael Knight. His gang fares even worse. They’re written really unrealistically and it often seems like Packard assembled his gang from mentally retarded youngsters. Sherilyn Fenn is deliciously cute as Keri, but the script once again offers her very little to do. Randy Quaid graces the film with his awesome presence as the local Sheriff, but once again -say it with me folks- the script doesn’t know what to do with his character. And those flaws could be overlooked if the lead character would work. But guess what? It doesn’t. The character Jake appears in the movie roughly for 15 minutes. Helmet head (yeah, everyone knows it’s Jake) appears in the film roughly the same amount, but it’s most likely a stunt double on the set that day. So Charlie Sheen stars in the movie, but he’s barely in it. And when he is, he’s barely in it. The only time he seems to give a fuck is when his character does exactly that with Keri. There’s a scene at the end when Sheen does a bit of comedy (the very Sheen-esque delivery on the line “let’s not do that again”) that gives some life to the character, but it’s still a mess. And to think that Johnny Depp hung around the set during the shoot of the film (he was dating Fenn at the time) and the director chose not to use him in the film. He was considered to be as a member of the Packard gang, but Mike Marvin went with a different actor. Nice going, Mike.

Don Henley's lesser known duet with Eraserhead.

Don Henley’s lesser known duet with Eraserhead.

Also, this film has one of THE biggest plot holes ever. The cops have seen the car, Turbo Interceptor kill several people and the driver of that car is wanted for several accounts of murder and mayhem. In the end the Police fail to capture the avenger. Jake, after the successful assassination of Packard and his gang gives the car to Jamie’s (and also Jake’s) brother. And that’s very sweet and all, but doesn’t Jake realize that by giving the car to him makes his brother the owner of A CAR WHOSE DRIVER IS THE MOST WANTED CRIMINAL IN THE TOWN? Or was that part of Jake’s plan? Is he secretly holding his brother somehow responsible for his killing and devised a devilish scheme to have him behind locked bars? Now that would be a dark twist. Is Mike Marvin really a genius?

Strangely, you will always have an encounter with Kuato when you're Quaid.

Strangely, you will always have an encounter with Kuato when you’re Quaid.

The soundtrack has pretty excellent coverage of eighties’ cheese and the car chases are pretty well shot (if I understood correctly, these scenes cost the life of an assistant cameraman) and the visual effects are surprisingly well done. The story and characters are terrible and they make the otherwise potentially fun revenge flick almost unwatchable. The suit and the car are awesome, I only wish the movie would be on par with those. A missed opportunity for sure, but if they ever release a toy version of the Turbo Interceptor and that helmet head dude with that ridiculous shotgun, I’d buy them in a heartbeat. So in that regards it works as a toy commercial, and isn’t that what it’s mostly about?

Rating: ++

Best scene: The avenger shoots the villains’ car workshop to bits. And surprisingly doesn’t kill anyone.

Most memorable bit: The beginning of that aforementioned shooting when there’s a shot revealing the avenger with his future weapon. Now that’s balls right there.

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