A good chase thriller isn’t so much scripted as diagrammed, mapped-out.
Characters have to get from Point A to Point B. Make the journey viable and scenic. Create interesting obstacles for them to overcome — a police dragnet, a dangerous cargo, betrayals, double-crosses, etc.
And you want to bring the film to a climax with mayhem in a finale hewn out of some form of rough justice, a criminal’s code of the road as it were.
The lean and immersive French thriller “Fast Convoy” (“Le Convoi,” to the natives) is a compactly mapped out addition to the genre. It packs four cars full of drug smugglers — mostly Muslim — and puts them on the road from Malaga to Paris. Over a day and a night (1100-1200 miles), they’ve got to dodge the cops — Spanish and French — work out internal conflicts, fight paranoia and panic, adapt when things go horribly wrong and survive long enough to collect twenty-thousand Euros.
It’s a chatty ride filled with bickering teams of drivers — scout teams in an Audi A4 and a VW Passat, a chaser/fixer in a Porsche Cayenne, and the cargo car, a Chrysler 300 — on a journey interrupted by explosions of violence. Genre picture it may be, but it’s not really about the cars or the chase or the quest. Characters are everything in this “thirteenth” delivery, the one that’s sure to be their undoing.
Majid (Foëd Amara) is a grump. In quick snippets of conversation, we figure out he’s got a pregnant woman waiting for him, that they work for “The Mahmoudis,” and that nobody told him that their trunk load of Moroccan hash has been augmented with bundles of cocaine. Young Elyes (Mahdi Belemlih) is behind the wheel and shrugs it off. Majid, who knows the “next level” legal consequences, flips out.
“What’ll you tell the JUDGE? ‘I only had SEVEN kilos! For PERSONAL use!”
Their convoy is built around burner phones, and Majid is quick to burn up his cussing out convoy leader Imad (Tewfik Jallab). That keeps Yacine and Remi (Amir El Kacem and Leon Garel) in the lead car from getting through and warning them all about a Guardia Civil (Spanish police) roadblock. And in Majid’s agitated state, that’s not a good thing.
Will the convoy’s mysterious “fixer,” Alex (Benoît Magimel) be able to tidy this up? Depends on how big a mess he finds when he rolls in with his Cayenne.
Alex is from a rich tradition in French crime films, a “cleaner” in the “Leon” (“The Professional”) mold. He knows how to dispose of a shot-up vehicle, what to do with a body. But his sunglassed cool is tested when he sees young Elyes has grabbed a hostage (Nadia Kherici).
Layers of intrigue are added as the shaken team dashes north to the Franco-Spanish border, through stunning Pyrenees passes, racing the clock.
But it’s the banter, in French with English subtitles, that titillates. Yacine is every bit as paranoid as Majid, and he’s seething with fury over the Gallic dope, Remi, he’s riding with. Remi wants to go all-in with this profession, changing his name to something Muslim. “Osama” is the fool’s first choice.
Imad tangles with his much-younger driver Reda (Sofian Khammes) over where they store their grenades. For, you know, just in case.
Alex is the mystery. Cold-hearted killer, cunning calculator, or is there humanity in there? He’s not happy having a hostage mixed in with these bungling, panic-prone chatterboxes.
“Either she comes too, or you kill her.”
Genre director Frederic Schoendoerffer (“96 Hours,” “Scene of the Crime”) won’t make anyone think of “The Transporter” with his pedestrian handling of the automotive stuff. He co-wrote a script that is more interesting for its run-of-the-mill logistics (gas cans in the scout cars, keeping the cargo car out of CCTV-covered gas stations and rest areas), dialogue and shoot-outs than its oddly-inept escape attempts, lax roadblocks and coincidences.
The players — believable, not particularly sympathetic, with Magimel’s Alex providing the requisite “cool” — make this work, and the violent interludes kick “Fast Convoy” up a notch. When Hollywood remakes it, and they should, they should stick to the diagram worked out here.
It won’t need all that “Fast & Furious” clutter to come off. Just a little more supercharged driving, if you please.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, graphic violence, drug abuse
Running time: 1:42