If proof were needed that not even a starry cast can save a trashy script, “Collide” certainly provides it. The screenplay, by F. Scott Frazier and Eran Creevy, is like an inferior rewrite of something Luc Besson might have written (as impossible as that might seem)—“The Transporter Junior,” perhaps. Creevy’s direction, meanwhile, has the same push-and-pull combination of hysterical action and dumb sentiment that the helmers Besson favors have always exhibited.
But the talent in front of the camera is undeniably impressive. The young leads, Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones, are both up-and-comers, while film icons Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley show up in the major supporting roles. They’re all slumming, of course, and what’s worse is that they all—especially Hopkins and Kingsley—let us know that they know they’re slumming, turning in performances that can only be described as so rotten that they approach categorization as high camp.
Hoult plays Casey, an American in Cologne working for a wildly flamboyant Turkish mob chief named Geran (Kingsley). When he meets another American, pretty Juliette (Jones), in a nightclub, though, he decides to go straight—and the two prove a happy, if poor, couple, gamboling about in the snow, until it’s revealed that Juliette is terribly ill and needs a kidney transplant. So Casey goes back to Geran to earn the cash for her treatment.
Fortunately Geran has a job in mind for Casey and his pal Matthias (Marwan Kenzari): hit Hagen Kahl (Hopkins), the smoothly vicious businessman who heads a cocaine-import racket on the side, providing Geran with the product he sells. Kahl has refused Geran’s request to be made a full partner in the operation, snidely insulting the volatile foreigner in the process. Geran wants revenge, so he enlists Casey and Matthias to highjack the Kahl company truck that’s transporting a load of golf balls filled with Chilean coke.
The heist is the final episode in the picture’s initial forty-minute arc, which has actually been pretty tedious. But what follows is an hour of high-octane mayhem, with Casey chased on foot through the narrow Cologne streets, and on the autobahn in a series of stolen cars, by Kahl and his minions, all of whom prove conspicuously poor shots, hitting just about everything but their quarry. (Bearded, steely-eyed Aleksandar Jovanovic as chief Kahl lieutenant Jonas, who stays on Casey’s trail to the very end, is the most notable of the goons.) They’re no better in hand-to-hand combat with the young fellow, who always manages to escape a dire fate by bonking them on the noggin, considerately leaving them only briefly unconscious so that they can get up and continue the pursuit with barely a pause. As for Juliette, she’s kidnapped by the odious Kahl to use as a bargaining chip.
You have to give Hoult credit for going through his role’s physical demands, even if his American accent occasionally falters. Jones is stuck in a thankless part: in the latter sections of the movie she mostly appears in gauzy hallucinations experienced by Casey after he’s crashed yet another of the cars he’s swiped to continue his flight. But the leads are eclipsed by Kingsley and Hopkins, who in this case are like two gigantic slices of thespian ham, though their approaches to scenery-chewing differ. Kingsley goes the utterly wacky route, offering an outlandishly oversized turn that makes his performance in “Sexy Beast” look positively mild by comparison. By contrast Hopkins takes a smugly supercilious tack, smiling snidely while delivering overripe dialogue that mixes sneering injunctions like “Run, run, little piggy” with quotations from Shakespeare. One trusts that both actors received large paychecks for demeaning themselves.
Of course, they also got to spend a few weeks filming in and around Cologne, an area that looks quite attractive in Ed Wild’s widescreen cinematography (the cathedral briefly glimpsed in one sequence is particularly impressive). One should also mention the action choreography, which is pretty good in the chase sequences on both foot and wheels, even if Chris Gill’s editing sometimes gets so frenetic that it’s difficult to appreciate the staging.
Overall, though, “Collide” is a would-be adrenaline rush that like so many films of its kind—remember Ethan Hawke’s “Getaway”?—runs out of gas long before it’s over (a circumstance that Casey must literally contend with in one of his pit stops). In the end the only real reason to check it out is to watch a couple of great actors trying to outdo one another in hamming it up. But be forewarned, it’s not a pleasant sight.