“You said nobody was supposed to die.” “I lied”, replies the gruff-voice of Marek (James Frain) near the beginning of Antonio Negret’s Transit (2012) – he’s clearly not a nice man. He’s just finished robbing an armoured truck with his angry number two Losada (Harold Perrineau) – he is also not a nice man. Together, they flee the scene with Marek’s floozy Arielle (Diora Baird) and their unhinged driver Evers (Ryan Donowho) – you can bet he’s not a nice man either.
The problem is, of course, that the police can spot not-very-nice people a mile off. So when this gang of people somewhat lacking in niceties encounter a roadblock during their $4 million getaway, Robyn hits upon an idea: stashing the cash in the boot of Nate’s car. Protagonist Nate (Jim Caviezel) knows nothing about this, as he’s going camping with his family. A couple of frenetic car chases later, and Nate has been pulled over for speeding. Talking to the cops, it turns out that he’s on parole for real estate fraud and trying to win back his family’s trust. Which means that Marek and his equally not-nice crew in for a tough time getting their money back.
Transit director Negret darts around the highway for 84 minutes filming the most frenetic set pieces he can find: car chases; jungle shoot-outs; motel raids; the whole she-bang. All Dutch angle tilts and low-level, his crazy camera ratchets up the tension (and the filters) until you stop caring about the nonsensical plot twists or naff supporting cast.
“Dad! You still don’t get it! Don’t you see what you’ve done?” cries Sterling Knight’s troubled teenage son, trying to justify his family’s decision to keep on going, not to mention his father’s transformation from rogue trader to Rambo. But when a housewife (Elisabeth Rohm) and a grouchy 16-year-old can become weapons experts in under a minute, basic principles such as logic are the last thing on anyone’s mind.
A solid premise for down and dirty thrills, Transit is at its best when channelling Steven Spielberg’s 1971 effort Duel in its gripping first half. When it goes off-road, it skids out of control, but Negret never takes his foot off the accelerator – the 84 minutes are over before you know it. Films with triple the budget have felt ten times as long…plus they didn’t have alligators in them…or a former-Christ impersonator (Caviezel) doing a reverse 180 in a Land Rover.