Vehicle 19 may call into question one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most famous quotations, which proposed that a movie only required a guy, a girl, and a gun—though, to be fair to Godard, he probably meant that a film with such a spartan conception would work only if these properties were incorporated semi-competently. Alas, the girl and the gun barely register at all in director Mukunda Michael Dewil’s film, and the guy is played by Paul Walker, who desperately writhes and gnashes his way through the thin, absurdly conceived role he’s been assigned.
This is one of those one-location movies typically conceived as a series of puzzles to test the filmmakers’ collective ingenuity at the expense of any consideration as to whether audiences will find the resulting production convincing or entertaining. Walker plays Michael Woods, a recently paroled recovering alcoholic visiting South Africa in an attempt to make amends with his estranged ex-wife. In the opening, Woods picks up the wrong rental car and finds himself thrust into a kidnapping scenario that unfolds more or less in real time. We never leave this vehicle, and the bad guy, a South African law enforcer with high connections, taunts Wood over the phone as the newly beleaguered hero dodges bullets and pursuing enemy limos.
In other words, Vehicle 19 is basically Phone Booth or Buried, but this time with the hero trapped inside an anonymous minivan. Those films weren’t great either, but they featured actors who sold you contrivances with a brio that was admirable and somewhat amusing. Walker, obviously cast for his association with the Fast and Furious franchise, simply isn’t an inventive enough performer to carry a movie, as he lacks both the sense of humor to invite our winking complicity with the absurdity of his predicament and the gravitas to allow us to accept his plight at face value. As one incoherent action scene follows another, one’s left staring at a film with nothing to respond to, waiting for it all to be over.