Vanishing Point is a car-race flick, at least on the surface. Underneath (buried not too deeply) is a moody and sly commentary on modern man’s gradual domestication in a confusingly eclectic society. At least I think that’s what it’s about.The subext, while a welcome respite from the non-stop driving sequences, is well-intentioned and periodically effective, yet often comes off as hamhanded - to say nothing of how painfully dated the film is. Still, Vanishing Point is an interesting little forgotten flick from the early 70’s, one that will most obviously appeal most to automobile aficionados.
Barry Nelson (Bowfinger) is Kowalski, one of America’s “last great drivers”. Despite the protestations of his loyal boss, Kowalski takes on a decidedly dangerous job: He must transport a 1970 white Dodge Challenger from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco in fifteen hours. Logically, the Highway Patrol catches wind of Kowalski’s presence early on, yet as he treks from state to state, none of the cops can catch our hero.
Kowalski’s finds an unlikely ally in a blind disc jockey called Super Soul (Cleavon Little of Blazing Saddles) who offers some timely advice to the driver as he speeds westward. Kowalski meets up with a colorful group of folks along the way, each one representing a different piece of America’s social class; a seemingly insane snake poacher (Dean Jagger of Alligator) turns out to be surprisingly helpful, as does a pair of good-natured desert-dwelling hippies. (The female hippie spends all of her scenes bare-assed naked, which always makes a movie at least a little better.)
The acting is generally quite serviceable, the extensive chase sequences are exciting and well shot (though hardly representative of the “best car chase movie ever!” promised on the video cover), and the film has that satisfying air of “1970’s freewheeling filmmaking”. Whether or not Vanishing Point has some big important metaphor behind all the high-paced automobile pursuits is up to the individual viewer.I just thought it was a fairly entertaining chase flick, with a few artistic touches included to keep the thinking viewers happy.