Now, this is what I’m talking about! Wheelman is a no-nonsense, beat-the-clock thriller that traps you in a car with Frank Grillo for 82 minutes. It’s the kind of movie that’s better with the volume cranked up. You might want to bring some friends over because it’s high tempo and makes you want to cheer on the action.
It has tons of shoot-outs and chase scenes, all built around the ‘heist gone wrong’ concept. Grillo is the Wheelman, a getaway driver that sees a simple job fall apart. When he drops off a couple of guys for a heist, he thinks it’ll be routine. But one phone call changes everything. All of a sudden, he’s driving for his life through the nighttime streets of Boston, with police sirens ringing in the air.
The set-up is very similar to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, but it has more in common with Locke, which follows Tom Hardy on a continuous car journey. Wheelman is the same thing, but with more style and road rage. There’s a self-awareness about it as if it knows it’s not trying to be the best movie ever. It’s a simple story, told with sharpness and splashes of dark comedy. It exists in B-movie territory and is happy to stay there.
Frank Grillo spends nearly the entire time in the car. The camera is attached to the interior and in many respects, the car becomes a character in itself. And yes, it gets smashed up and beaten to a pulp. The effect of this claustrophobic style is that you start to feel the Wheelman’s desperation. His fear of whether or not he’ll survive the night rubs off on you.
I give credit to the director, Jeremy Rush and Grillo himself for making a paper-thin plot super exciting. Expect your heart to pound every time the Wheelman gets a simple phone call, or when he speaks to the unknown person that contacts him throughout the film. It keeps the tension moving and isn’t too bothered about character development.
If I haven’t made it clear already, Grillo’s character is not given another name. He’s just Wheelman, a seedy professional that keeps his identity under wraps when he’s driving robbers to a bank job. He does have a backstory, but let’s be honest, the only thing that’s important here is Grillo being badass and trying not to get shot.
It’s not a smart film, I’ll admit. The camera work is clever, but it is not much more than driving. Also, the dialogue is sometimes laughably bad. It doesn’t feel real and there is so much pointless swearing. I don’t expect a huge amount of realism in action-thrillers, but Rush could have at least been imaginative with the dialogue.
It’s simply the tense moments, stylish action and the star-turning performance by Grillo that makes it highly watchable. Frank Grillo is the man. Hopefully, we’ll get to see him in more films soon.
There are plenty of films that are similar, but many aren’t nearly as cool as Wheelman. It embraces its own genre-trappings for a tense ride that’s all about speed, timing and getting the job done.
Directed and written by: Jeremy Rush
Stars: Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garret Dillahunt, Wendy Moniz
Run Time: 82 minutes
Wheelman is now streaming on Netflix.