“The Wraith” (1986)
Directed By Mike Marvin
Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Matthew Barry, David Sherrill, Jamie Bozian and Clint Howard
From the outskirts of space and time comes an unknown force that’s created from light and dark. Its motive is simple, its form is unknown and its driving force is fear. It’s the Wraith—a phantom brought back to regain what was taken from him in his previous life.
Starring an extremely young Charlie Sheen along with Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn and written and directed by Mike Marvin (“Hamburger: The Motion Picture”), the film follows a group of motorist thugs who terrorize the local highways of Brooks, Ariz. But when a mysterious figure in a charged Turbo Interceptor rolls into town, the thugs are stalked at every street corner by the mysterious Wraith (Sheen) who has only one motive: Revenge.
Shot entirely on location in the beautiful city of Tucson, Ariz., and featuring a stellar soundtrack with some of the biggest names in the music scene like Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Mötley Crüe and Tim Feehan, the film itself has potential of being an “awesome flick” which equals a fun night at the movies. Unfortunately, it fails to connect with me due to flat writing and one-dimensional acting that has the talent to complete their characters but falls short due to either lack of creativity or limitations.
First of all, I was a huge fan when I first saw this film at 12 years old. I could remember reenacting the entire movie from beginning to end by playing with Matchbox and Hotwheels die-cast cars to complete my own adaption of the film.
Unfortunately, all of us have to grow up. Not too long ago, I was able to revisit this former childhood memory and relive some of those fun one-on-one times I had when I was younger. But when I did, I found it to be rather disappointing that it didn’t have its same affect. I remembered being in awe watching the Wraith triumph over evil and saving the damsel in distress at the end. It was extremely exciting. But now it seems like the flame that was once there is slowly staring to fade.
What I really didn’t care about in the film was the semi-completed screenplay. With all respect to Marvin, I felt as if he had the idea that could have worked if he would have spent a little more time fleshing out the story and characters, and at least explained from a literal perspective how the Wraith came to be. I’m not talking about the reason, which is stated within the opening minutes of the film’s storyline. I’m talking about the mythology that created our hero. Maybe if there was a scene where they show you his transformation rather than having him appear out of nowhere, it would have made the story more effective and more of a tribute to science fiction/horror genres.
Plus, the dialog felt too general, with no emphasis on the actor’s performance. It was as if Marvin wrote the entire script in a long weekend and decided to shoot the first draft rather than a finalized version that had the complete idea.
However, it’s not all terrible. There are some effective segments in the film that kept its rating in the average zone. Some of the acting is fair, especially between Fenn and Barry.
There’s a small scene near the end of the story that, in my opinion, was the heart this film needed. Billy (Barry) just had a realization after Sheen’s character speeds off into the night on his motorcycle. Billy finally pieces together who Sheen is and has one of the few moving moments in the film as he cries out in happiness. It’s the only moment in the film where it became real rather than viewing another typical film with this formulaic approach.
Most of the time with ideas and concepts like this, the acting is very melodramatic rather than a raw performance, which is much more of a natural reaction when it comes to mirroring real life.
Some of the other supporting cast members do have very few moments where they become at least a little more convincing than their one-dimensional approach. But when it comes to key scenes where the plot begins to “somewhat” thicken, the actors fall short on the big advantage they could have taken to lift the movie to a higher level. In the scene when the group first encounters the Wraith after the first death in the film, I felt everyone was holding back their energy rather than expressing it.
My personal advice to the writer, director and the stars would be to explore more of the mythology behind this supernatural entity. I’m sure if they thought about the idea more specifically, they would have had a better quality film, rather than just another car-chase flick with hot cars and self-restrained acting that has potential.
In the end, this childhood memory has finally found itself in its rightful place on any avid film buff’s shelf—a piece of cinema that has potential, but hardly got there. Other than its huge flaws, it’s a fun, mediocre ride that will satisfy your taste buds for a bit before you start craving something else.
If you’d like a recommendation on a film that does stand the test of time and has this same formality that brings all the previous elements, go watch the Alex Proyas 1994 film “The Crow” with Brandon Lee. This is what “The Wraith” should have been.
Two out of Four Stars