There’s an old adage, probably originating with Roger Ebert, that one should review the movie one saw, not the one that they wish they saw. But I honestly can’t help but be disappointed by what a complete wasted opportunity Collide has turned out to be based on the promise of what the film’s original screenplay offered.
Collide started off life as a spec script by XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage screenwriter F Scott Frasier. When I read it back in 2012, I was excited by the fact that the screenplay read as an action film that could be done as one continuous shot. It was an ambitious and unique idea. At the time I described the writing’s crackling energy and story propulsion as “Crank by way of 1971’s Vanishing Point minus the latter’s existential ending.” A half decade later and I would update those reference points to “2013’s Locke filtered through Mad Max: Fury Road done in one continuous take.” But no matter what parallels one draws, the film as written on the page of that undated draft I read promised to take audiences on quite a ride.
And then the film went into development, ultimately getting director Eran Creevy attached. Creevy took a pass through the screenplay and in the process reworked the film’s story structure, added a second bad guy and ultimately watered the original down enough to deliver a rather generic, pulpy action film while simultaneously grabbing a co-screenwriting credit for himself.
Casey Stein (Nicholas Hoult) is a twenty-something American living in Germany who meets cute and falls in love with Juliet (Felicity Jones, far more a damsel in distress than she was in Star Wars: Rogue One). The two quickly move in together and they seem destined for a happily ever after, when a medical emergency puts Juliet’s life at stake. Given the couple’s questionable legal status in the country, they are not eligible for state health care coverage, forcing Casey to return to a life he thought he had left behind him – working for some of the country’s biggest drug distributors (Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley). But rather than help move a shipment through the country, Casey and a friend plot to steal a big shipment of drugs and money from them. However, things don’t go according to their plan and Casey is soon racing to save Juliet from the clutches of the vengeful gangsters.
Creevy has retained some of the main ideas and a few action beats from Frasier’s original draft. But it seems every major addition and change not only adds nothing new but subtracts from the original’s uniqueness. His new opening twenty minutes that sets up the Casey-Juliet relationship feels pro-forma and functional. The first page of Fraiser’s Autobahn may simply state “This movie is fast. This movie is relentless.” but this opening drags along like someone waking up from a sound sleep, taking a long yawn and stretch before slowly shuffling sleepy-eyed off to the bathroom for their morning ablutions. The addition of a secondary drug distributor villain may add complications to the hero’s progress, but it also slows the film down at points.
If there’s anything that keeps us even mildly interested in what is going on, it is Hoult and Jones. The two share something of a chemistry and they do their best to give their roles some weight, even when the script asks them to do things that make no sense. For his part, Hopkins gives a rather cold detached performance, one that oozes menace and belongs in a far better movie than this one. Kingsley seems to recognize the pulpy material he has been given and suitably chews up all the available scenery with his portrayal of a tweaked out drug dealer with ambitions of his own.