Five years ago, Rennie (Jim Caviezel) witnessed his wife being killed in a deliberate hit and run incident; now he drives around the U.S.A. searching for the man who committed the murder. Molly (Rhona Mitra) is a singer in a choir who is attending practice one night, and she declines a lift home from a fellow performer to go with her friend Alex (Andrea Roth). As they drive through the city streets, they enter a tunnel only to be met with the sight of a crashed truck which carried a horse - Alex swerves to avoid it and causes the truck behind her to crash. They stop to survey the damage, and Alex tells Molly to stay where she is while she goes to get help, but there's another car in the tunnel... the car belonging to the hit and run driver...
This bizarre, handsomely photographed horror was scripted by Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer, and sounds like it could feature the plot of a seventies drive-in movie with its gimmicky serial killer and action sequences. However, director Robert Harmon doesn't go the sensational route but instead opts for a moody approach where a trashy style might have served the more than slightly silly story better. Its murderer, Fargo (Colm Feore), is a man who has made himself part of his car, an extension of his body as Rennie says, after he was seriously injured in a smash up. So we glimpse the killer as a wheelchair-bound half man-half machine, with prosthetic limbs and a neck brace, zooming around in his customised car.
If you're looking for positive images of the disabled, then move along please, because you won't find them here. Fargo is an irredeemable psychopath, although at least we find out he was a psychopath before his crippling accident rather than because of it. When he sees Alex in the tunnel, he doesn't waste much time in running her over with undisguised glee, using his car as weapon of choice. Molly manages to escape, but not before Fargo has taken a photograph of her for future reference, and speeds off. At the crime scene, Rennie turns up and realises that the killer won't be satisfied with letting Molly go so easily, so decides to help her by helping himself - he will use her as bait.
Later, Rennie meets Molly at a support group, and persuades her to arrange a meeting. Rennie is just as obsessed as Fargo, and they have been engaging in a cat and mouse chase across the states, communicating via CB radio to taunt each other. At this point, another pursuer enters the story, a middle aged traffic investigator named Macklin (Frankie Faison) who realises that Rennie has something to do with the tunnel incident. And so the small cast of characters is complete, and Fargo makes his move by smashing into a car Molly is riding in one night, flipping it upside down and towing it along the highway with a chain until Rennie catches up with them. These action scenes are well handled, but can't shake the feeling of what you're watching is expertly-staged nonsense.
After that, Molly reluctantly teams up with Rennie, and more low key acting ensues as there's nobody turning up the charisma here. The hunter versus the hunted storyline is a tried and tested one, and Highwaymen keeps this formula as simple as possible, with any dialogue about motives and purpose seeming extraneous. Fargo used to pore over car crash photographs when he was a kid, Rennie was the one who smashed up the killer in revenge, but of course the police never take an interest, seeing the deaths as random accidents. Eventually the action moves to the middle of nowhere, lonely highways running between rolling plains, which is where it looks most comfortable, and the final confrontation occurs with Molly as a strangely fetishised kidnap victim. You can admire the film's single-mindedness and sleek appearance, but its lack of depth does nothing to make its big idea look palatable, and even though it's short, it should have lost the final minute. Music by Mark Isham.