An ex-cop/ former racing driver (Barry Newman) gets whacked-out on Benzedrine and sets out to muscle a torqued-up 1970 Dodge Charger from Denver to San Francisco in record time. County cops and state troopers soon are all over him like a cheap suit.
However, local folks including a soul brother disc jockey (Cleavon Little), some free-livin’-and-lovin’ hippies and a cagey desert recluse (Dean Jagger) sense an anti-hero-in-the-making and help Newman evade the ‘blue meanies’ and other hostilities on the way to existential nowhere.
Further making out it’s supposed to be something more than just a car chase movie, ‘Vanishing Point’s protagonist is known only as ‘Kowalski’, a moniker akin to Kafka’s ‘Josef K’ or Camus’ ‘Meursault’ - isolated, fated individuals looking into the abyss. Walter Hill later put same in a car and called him ‘The Driver’; Nicolas Winding Refn more recently, just ‘Driver’. If you’re going to head off into the abyss, you may as well do it in a cool set of wheels.
Unfortunately 'Vanishing Point' turns out to be a sour conceit of a movie that comes apart under the weight of its self-conscious heaviosity and general raggedness. Apart from Dean Jagger not much acting happens. Director Richard Safarian often fails to point the camera in any direction that matters. The plot (which you’re not necessarily supposed to care about in an action movie) manages to get in the way of itself and the action both. But it's fair to say that the ending works and almost justifies what it took to get there. Almost.
When first released ‘Vanishing Point’ did well at the box office, resonating with ‘70’s audiences that earlier had embraced ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) to which the film’s been compared. But thankfully that was then and this is now.
A cult movie of similar ilk that’s stood up better is ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ (1974), a brooding just-for-the-hell-of-it vanity project of Hollywood stunt driver H. B. Halicki which the cities of Long Beach and Torrence, California have never forgotten.
This one is the big ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ of '70's car chase B-pictures. While it doesn’t make a whole lotta sense, it doesn’t really matter. ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ is half killer, half filler - the filler being the first part of the film which has a go at a plot. After that, just sit back and enjoy the ride. As Leonard Cohen might had said, "dance it to the end of noir".