I should really change the name of our site to “Alex shows you why the only movies you ever really need to see were made from about 1979 to 1989.” That’s not true, because some great movies came out before and after that decade long window, but the more and more I dig into the movies I love that may have fallen by the wayside, the more and more I realize they all seem to be either made, or have strong ties, to that time frame. The Wraith is another one of these rubies, and better yet, one I don’t see spoken about often or reviewed enough (or very well, for that matter) on the internet. So what is this flick all about? Glad you asked.
The Wraith is a new spin on the tried and true ghost/spirit revenge tale. I’m sure we’ve all seen movies where someone is wrongfully murdered, and then a spectral version of them self comes back in order to exact vengeance on those who did him or her wrong. What you probably haven’t seen is, what if that victim came back with a Dodge Turbo Interceptor, and used his car to kill those who “Road Pirates” who killed him and continue terrorize the small Arizona town they live in? Sounds kind of badass right? It totally is, and here’s why.
The first rule of making a car-centric (or Car Porn, for those of you gear-heads out there) movie, besides having some sexy looking cars to film, is that you film the cars well while they are moving. In recent years, computer graphics, models and copious other cop out special effects have replaced elaborate pyrotechnics and stunt drivers, but The Wraith spares us that sub-video game graphic quality and non-sense for some no-bullshit car chases, races, and massive, multiple angle explosions. Director Mike Marvin shows a lot of competence and confidence while he makes sweet cinematic love to the fleet of vehicles he has at his disposal, and every race and chase is filmed very well, even if they are a bit on the short side. Even with short actions sequences, the movie is built around the set pieces, meaning to say that you never go more than 15 minutes or so before something is getting blown up or shot at. Marvin still manages to let the characters be fleshed out enough to care about by meshing the action with character development, with special attention given towards Keri Johnson (the damsel in distress), Packard Walsh (played brilliantly by actor-turned-director Nick Cassavetes, director of such steaming piles of shit like John Q, The Notebook, and Alpha Dog), and Jake Kesey (played by a stunt driver in an awesome black leather suit mostly, and when he is out of the suit, it’s Charlie Sheen.) Mike Marvin seemed hellbent on turning Nick Cassavetes into a legitimate action bad guy movie star, as he shines throughout as just a miserable bastard of a villain, but one who is pretty smart and intimidating in an unconventionally stylish and almost classy way. The scene that pushes him over the edge, and shows Mike Marvin at his actor-driven-scene best is when Packard forces his girlfriend/”property”, Keri Johnson, to cut his hand to show that they are “Blood Lovers.” When Marvin isn’t giving little peeks into the everyday world of the road pirates or Keri, he is making the best of the picturesque south-western scenery and really knocking the race and chase scenes out of the park with simple but highly effective camera angles that are usually filming slightly upward at the cars, in order to give that a “bigger than life” quality and a greater sense of speed and pure muscle.
Since I already bled into a critique of what you can expect from the acting, I will cheat a bit here and sum it up by saying that if you know how to take 80’s acting on the chin, and laugh a bit WITH it, instead of at it, you won’t have any problems sitting through The Wraith. On a whole, the acting is above par from what I remembered it being the first time I saw this (which was when I was like 12, and I saw it on a Sunday afternoon on WB 11 New York or something like that) and again, the true standout is Nick Cassavetes as the absolutely insufferable and demented Packard Walsh. Oh, and Clint Howard lends his…big hair, crazy glasses, and general geekdom to this flick as well, and Clint is always worth mentioning. Randy Quaid has something between a cameo and a bit part as one Detective Loomis (a nod to Halloween?) and does what Randy Quaid normally does; be kinda weird and off putting and not play much of a factor in the likability of any movie in particular.
The real stars of the show, as you probably guessed by the story synopsis, are the special effects and the cars. Now, before somebody jumps down my throat, I am not a guy car. I know one car in the film is a Turbo Interceptor, because that’s what people called it in the movie. There was also a Cuda. That’s about what I know. What I do know, is the cars we all very distinguishable, looked very cool and seemed to go really fast, and that was really all I cared about. The races, as I mentioned earlier, are somewhat on the short sort and somewhat samey, but the fact that they usually end in explosions or some massive crash makes them much more entertaining. The explosions are ridiculously big, the warehouse explosion and the final crash explosion in particular, but it adds to the quality of the revenge that is so deservedly being dealt out by our black clad, Spas-12 shotgun wielding, Turbo Interceptor driving hero. The natural lighting that prevails through much of the film gives the movie a much more realistic and gritty look, like you can almost feel the sand and dirt kicking up around these four-wheeled mayhem machines. The south west is the perfect place to film a movie based around cars and crashes, and the locale certainly glimmers here. When we aren’t seeing the small Arizon town in the daytime, heavy blues and purples help to give the nighttime a other worldly feel, especially when The Wraith shows up. As far as the auido department goes, the sound is spot on, and the soundtrack has some Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, and Motley Crue in it when the synthy score isn’t just moseying around.
The Wraith must be taken in by someone who can enjoy a fair amount of very minor flaws that come with any film that is dated beyond 20 years. That being said, it is a highly enjoyable, very watchable (visually, it still has some impressive moments), and an impressively unique take on an age old film formula that sees the victim getting one last go at those who did him in. The “Road Pirates” give it a bit of a modern day Mad Max feel, but The Wraith taps into more of a spacey vibe that anything. The universe itself has rejected the death of the young, innocent, and unjustly murdered man and have sent him back to Earth with a bitchin’ all black leather racing suit, racing helmet with tinted visor, and a sweet fucking car with one mission. Kick. Major. Ass.