Paul Walker stars as Michael Woods, a down and out ex-con desperate to turn his life around. With one last chance to salvage his relationship with his estranged girlfriend, he breaks his parole to visit her to try and fix what they have left. A mix up with the car rental company leaves Michael stuck with the wrong car, but his problems are only just beginning. When he finds that the car contains a silenced gun and a hostage hidden in the back, Michael realises he is way out of his depth, and soon finds himself on a dangerous collision course with the corrupt and powerful Chief of Police. Unable to go the police and having already broken parole, it's up to Michael alone to save not only the hostages life, but his own.
I had a theory about Furious 7 being as highly regarded as it was because of Paul Walker’s death. Posthumous roles tend to garner much more attention just for the chance to see the actor one last time. Yes, Walker can look good look behind the wheel and play well with a big cast. But when it came to carrying a film on his own, he rarely could handle the weight from such ho-hum productions. Vehicle 19 is one such example of the actor struggling to reach that potential in a script that offers few chances to be anything more than a standard action hero.
Sticking close to his typecast roles, Walker spends almost the entire movie within a car. Visiting Johannesburg after getting out of prison to visit his woman, Michael (Paul Walker) finds himself in the wrong rental van. He finds a cell phone in the glove compartment. He finds a gun under the seat. And he finds a kidnapped woman in the back. He’s fallen right into the middle of a police operation to silence their involvement with prostitution. Stricken about what he should do, he waggles around a gun and screams in fury about not wanting to get involved.
Of course, what this all amounts to is a series of car chases around Johannesburg. And, to be fair, most of these chases are pretty decent with enough screeching tires, firing of guns and explosions from flipped vehicles. There’s even a great use of the city as when Walker spots two cop cars that peak out of the horizon and then quickly ducks his car into a car wash. It’s just too bad that Paul Walker spends his entire stay in the country within a van. He spends so much time driving around in this movie that it started reminding me of the 2013 car-chase dud, Getaway.
Unlike Getaway, however, Vehicle 19’s plot never gets too insane. It’s kept simple enough as Walker’s passenger has information about the police chief working a prostitution ring. If she can get the information to the press, she can blow it wide open. Corrupt officials don’t want her to talk and we have our action. There are no extra plot twists or zany attempts to jazz up the chases. Sorry, Furious 7 fans - no miniguns in this movie.
For what little room Paul Walker is given to emote with his passenger and his cell phone, he does an admirable job. He perfectly embodies that frustration of a man so torn to do the right thing and stay out of jail. His witness passenger Naima McLean does a fantastic job as well as a woman fearing for her life and willing to fight for it. The chemistry between Walker and McLean is quite effective when they’re not rushing towards the next clue or action scene. The action-heavy plot continues to dominate their time together until they become non-existent in a story that paints by the numbers in its third act. I really wanted to love the buddy angle of this all, but the movie just never gives the viewer a chance the way it practically rips them out of the equation.
If you just can’t get enough of Paul Walker driving cars really fast, Vehicle 19 offers up one more slice of standard action. But if you’re hoping for a solid tribute to the actor, you’re better off ending with Furious 7. What starts off with unique characters and story ultimately ends up being a fast production with nowhere interesting to go. It eventually runs out of gas by the end that it actually lifts its ending from The Gauntlet. It may sound grim, but part of me is glad that his last film was something as bombastic and fun as Furious 7. I don’t know if I could handle an aged Walker doing scores of small, mediocre movies fitting the template of Vehicle 19.