Film Review: ‘Wheelman’ – Variety

It’s difficult to avoid catchphrases like “stripped for speed” and “pedal to the metal” while appraising “Wheelman,” writer-director Jeremy Rush’s cunningly conceived and skillfully executed thriller about a getaway driver who is driven to extremes when someone carjacks the heist for which he’s been hired. It’s a grade-A B-movie that gets maximum mileage from a carefully calibrated mix of hardboiled neo-noir melodrama and high-velocity minimalism. Just as important, Rush’s more-than-promising debut feature — which clocks in at just 82 minutes, with nary a wasted second — is a perfect-fit star vehicle for Frank Grillo, the sinewy tough customer whose previous credits include TV’s “Kingdom,” the Chinese-produced smash hit “Wolf Warrior II” and appearances in the “Captain America” and “Purge” franchises.

The set-up may sound like something on the order of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (or Walter Hill’s “The Driver”), but “Wheelman” actually has a bit more in common with “Locke,” Steven Knight’s car-confined road trip featuring Tom Hardy as a family man driven by cell-phone conversations, and “Adrenaline,” Robert Archer Lynn’s undeservedly obscure 2007 drama about an innocent bystander blackmailed by an unknown caller into pulling off a major crime.

The big difference here, of course, is that the eponymous protagonist played by Grillo would never be described as innocent. And he has even more trouble with unseen callers when a bank robbery spins nightmarishly out of control. Grillo’s character — let’s call him Wheelman, since he’s never given another moniker — is a recently released ex-con who owes the Boston mob big time after the made men took care of his estranged wife and 13-year-old daughter while he was in prison. He’s a curt, no-nonsense professional who’s easily riled whenever he perceives incompetence (note his profane reaction when an underworld factotum…

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