Dateline: Texas. Christmas Eve. Christmas carols are playing on the radio. And even though this is one heck of a hot day, the stores are decked out like the preverbal halls. It’s Christmas time in the city. But this isn’t going to be one of those White Christmas warm and fuzzy eggnog cozying by the fireplace stories. Don’t get me wrong. There’s going to be plenty of roasting by an open fire, but those aren’t chestnuts. Those are people.
An eclectic mix of passengers are boarding a bus in Dallas to travel across the interior of the Lone Star State. They each have their own stories and reasons for taking a six hour bus ride on Christmas Eve. We’re treated to some of them. The most notable is Merideth Cole (Mond). She’s an American soldier who is AWOL during a time of war. That spells desertion, and she has a fed on her tail. Of course, she’s got military training and some mad skills that are going to come in handy before long. The trip has barely begun when a motorcycle gang, known as the Nomads, runs the bus off of the road. The resulting carnage causes the passengers to panic and the Nomads to smell fear…and blood, some of it their own. The gang pursues the bus once again. The bus leaves the highway and ends up at a dead end abandoned wrecking yard. They barricade themselves as best they can while the gang surrounds them and sends for reinforcements. Isolated, the group engages in a state of war with the Nomads. Many of the characters on both sides are simply cannon fodder for the bloodletting. The main characters are straight out of the Hollywood stock character store.
You have the high school football coach who wants to be in charge, and he’s the only one with a gun. There’s the elf-quest player who is heading to California to compete in an archery competition. She fortunately has a sweet bow rig, but doesn’t want to hurt anyone. She’s a vegan, don’t you know? There’s the chick who knows all about the Nomads. She provides the exposition so the audience knows these are really bad guys. She refers to them as “Satan’s Little Helpers”. I mean, in case running the bus from the road and killing folks without provocation wasn’t enough. She’s the expert because she dated a biker once. There’s the reformed deadbeat dad, the Spanish speaking elder handyman who happens to know how to build weapons. The mother who just wants to get back to her kids. And, of course, our army runaway.
The cast is actually pretty solid. Lea Thompson plays the mom with a ‘tude. Relative newcomer Julie Mond does a pretty good job as the AWOL soldier who takes charge and keeps the group alive. Fred Ward is perhaps the strongest actor here as the fed tracking down Merideth. The characters are over the top, to be sure, but not so much that you can’t enjoy the situation and the film for what it is. There’s an attempt here to portray this idea that, trapped, these ordinary people can do some pretty vicious things to survive. The truth is, no one really breaks out of character here. All of the actions are pretty much defensive and no one’s taking any particular pride or joy in killing bad guys.
Look. It’s all mindless action. The pace is pretty manic so there’s not a lot of dull sitting around moments. You do get the requisite character interactions to show their “coming around” moments. The Nomads never talk, which makes them that much more creepy. They’re a pretty good group of scary looking bad guys. While the things the passengers do are quite unlikely, it’s fun to watch. Just shut off your brain for a while. I know you know how to do that. I’ve seen the election results over the years.
Exit Speed is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is not a powerful image at all, but it does the job fairly. Black levels are fine, which is good when you consider much of the film occurs at night. There is some minor compression artifact. You get an average bit rate of 5-6 mbps. The print is clean.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is mostly grungy guitar chords during the action sequences. It’s not my cup of tea, but it certainly matches the film’s pace and biker theme. Dialog comes through fine most of the time. Even the subs came alive, but always all too briefly when you consider how much stuff is blowing up here.
Production Diary: This is a little over a half hour. It’s made to look like a documentary on the shooting of the movie. Producer Sally Helppie narrates a day by day progression through the shoot. She’s too often overdramatic in her buildups. The picture and sound is definitely camcorder quality. We also learn that a five year drought ended at the same time the film was being shot in the Dallas area.
Production Design: Eric Whitney is the production designer and built “everything you see here”. He proudly goes through the evolution of the film’s sets. The piece runs about 4 minutes.
Action Reel: This 5 minute piece shows you a couple of the action scenes being made. You also meet some members of the cast.
Nomads: This 2 minute piece has no dialog and just shows the motorcycle performers riding around.
A Photo Gallery and Trailer round it all out.
This was a lot more fun than I thought it might be. Certainly it’s mindless, but that can be more fun than the rational film sometimes. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, because I don’t see a lot of replay potential here. It’s a great rental, though. And it answers the age old question: “Does liverwurst go bad overnight, because if it does you’ll never be able to tell by the taste”.