It pretty much goes without saying that the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and its variants, including the Redeye, Super Stock, Demon, and Demon 170, are amongst America’s most paradigm-shifting muscle cars. First released in 2014 as a 2015 model, the Hellcat wiped the slate clean as to what a muscle car could be with its 6.2-liter, supercharged Hemi V8 that pushed out an astonishing 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque.
Surprisingly, despite its cultural impression and the impact it has had on the automotive world, the Hellcat has not appeared much on film, aside from a gaggle of hip-hop videos and a few commercials. Hollywood it seems, for the most part, has stuck with its old standbys, the Mustang and the Camaro, when it has needed a muscle car for its heroes.
Recently though, while looking through titles in consideration for subjects of this column, I stumbled upon a movie in which the featured car is Dodge’s most vicious apex predator. Delving a bit more into the film, it seemed to check all of the boxes for what might prove to be a pretty cool movie – a good cast, an intriguing plot involving a former American special agent, lots of shootouts and action sequences, and yes, that Hellcat.
Without hesitation then, I watched the movie, and what follows are my thoughts about the 2022 thriller, Blacklight, the subject of this month’s chapter of Rob’s Car Movie Review.
Blacklight was a joint production of a gaggle of companies, including Zero Gravity Management, Footloose Productions, Solution Entertainment Group, Sina Studios, Fourstar Film Partners Production, Elevate Production Finance, Film Victoria, Lightstream Pictures Australia, Monty the Dog Productions, and Screen Australia, and was distributed in the United States by Briarcliff Entertainment and Open Road Films.
The movie was directed by Mark Williams, a seasoned helmer, based on a screenplay he wrote along with Nick May and Brandon Reavis. Starring is Liam Neeson along with Aidan Quinn, Taylor John Smith, Emmy Raver-Lampman, and Claire van der Boom. Filming took place in Australia which substituted for Washington D.C., owing to the film’s financiers which were, in part, Australian production concerns.
The story revolves around the exploits of an independent fixer for the FBI, Travis Block (Neeson), as he ages out of the role he has occupied since he returned from Vietnam in the 1970s. Desirous of a simple existence being a father and grandfather to his daughter and granddaughter, something that his vocation has always robbed him of, Block envisions himself leaving the bureau shortly.
Just as this is happening, a political activist, who spoke about the U.S. Government’s excesses and lack of concern for the people at a rally in Washington D.C., is murdered in a hit-and-run incident in front of her home. Simultaneously, Block is assigned by FBI Director Gabriel Robinson (Quinn) to locate and bring in a rogue undercover FBI agent, Dusty Crane (Smith). Block communicates his request to retire, but Robinson insists he perform this one last task before doing so.
Meanwhile, Crane comes in from the cold and contacts a journalist, Mira Jones (Raver-Lampman), claiming to have information about the activist’s death as being part of Operation Unity, a top-secret FBI program that murders American citizens who are generating dissatisfaction and outrage aimed at the American government.
Block locates Crane, who tells him that Robinson himself is running Operation Unity and was responsible for ordering the murder of the activist, allegations that Block doesn’t believe. Block’s mind is changed though, when Crane is murdered while in his custody by a pair of FBI agents.
Block confronts Robinson with the information given to him by Crane, but Robinson warns Block not to interfere, reminding the fixer that he has done many questionable things in the past that Robinson can expose.
Block is torn between doing something about Robinson’s illegal campaign and remaining silent, but is spurred to action when his daughter and granddaughter disappear. Teaming up with the reporter, Block must uncover proof of Operation Unity, and locate his family before it is too late.
Blacklight is a very uneven film in terms of its creative facets.
On the one hand, the technical proficiency of the cinematography, editing, sound design, and action coordination are all top-notch, lending the movie a very slick, Hollywood look.
On the other, the script is highly generic, offering up every cliché and hackneyed plot element of a secret agent/political thriller you could ever imagine. You’ve seen each twist and machination presented here a thousand times before, and the subplot of Block’s relationship with his family is presented in such a sappy manner as to be completely insipid.
What’s more, and what is highly surprising given some of the talent involved, is the film’s performances, which are nearly universally bad, save for the efforts of Emmy Raver-Lampman, who puts in a decent turn. Aside from her though, everybody is fairly wooden, which in part must be blamed on the awful dialogue they were obligated to spout.
Saving the movie from utter oblivion though are two elements: a slew of well-done shootouts, in which the participants actually have to reload their weapons, and don’t score ridiculously impossible off-the-hip kill shots; and a pair of great cars made to perform some impressive automotive stunts.
Of course, as previously mentioned, the main car in the movie is Block’s supercharged Challenger. Clearly a 2019 or newer model as evidenced by its twin scoop hood, it is not discernable on-screen whether the car is a Hellcat or a Hellcat Redeye, given the fact that the car has been debadged. Behind-the-scenes sources say the car was the former though, which packs an uprated 717 horsepower and 656 lb-ft of twist in the 2019-23 model years due to the hood scoop’s ram air effect.
The car is a widebody model, and wears Granite Crystal Metallic paint over a black leather interior. It features a set of dark 20-inch “Devil’s Rim” wheels, shod with Pirelli P-Zero rubber, an 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic, and the standard SRT rear spoiler.
Given all the power the Hellcat offers, one would hope that it is put to good use in the movie, and indeed it is. Two raucous car chases take place in the span of the movie’s running length.
The longer of the two features Block, in the ‘Cat, chasing Crane in garbage truck through midday traffic, and is absolutely sensational. The Hellcat is pushed to its absolute limits, and hearing that supercharger whine while it does four-wheel drifts and rides on extreme opposite lock is a real thrill. Kudos to the stunt drivers, as they did a heck of a job.
The other cool car in the movie is a 1985 Porsche 944 Turbo. Dressed in bright red, the car looks fantastic and is given a chase sequence of its own, where the driver, Mira’s editor, is pursued by the same FBI killers that took out Crane. The Porsche is pushed as hard as Block’s Challenger, and there are several shots of the driver downshifting and upshifting the German car’s gearbox.
I’d like to offer the filmmakers a vote of approval at this juncture for not destroying either one of these great cars, something that most action films these days cannot make a claim to.
All in all though, Blacklight is a mediocre film. I wanted to like it more than I ended up doing, as I like Liam Neeson, and enjoy the genre that the film belongs to quite a bit. Sadly though, the plot lets the whole affair down, and I can only recommend watching the movie for its excellent choice of cars and the stunts they perform.
I give Blacklight five-and-a-half out of ten pistons.