Review: ‘The Vanished’ (2020), starring Thomas Jane, Anne Heche, Jason Patric and Peter Facinelli

August 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anne Heche, Thomas Jane and Jason Patric in “The Vanished” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“The Vanished

Directed by Peter Facinelli

Culture Representation: Taking place in a rural part of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the dramatic thriller “The Vanished” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one African American/biracial person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife report their 10-year-old daughter missing during a camping trip, and they begin to suspect certain people around them are responsible for their daughter’s disappearance.

Culture Audience: “The Vanished” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching movies about mysteries with plot elements that defy logic.

Aleksei Archer, Kristophe Wente, Anne Heche and Thomas Jane in “The Vanished” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“The Vanished” is an appropriate title for this dramatic film if it’s used to describe all the common sense that disappears once the plot twist at the end of the movie is revealed. In order to believe the plot twist (which won’t be revealed in this review), you’d have to believe that a huge step was missed in a scene involving the investigation of a missing 10-year-old girl. That investigation is at the heart of this shambling and often-ludicrous movie, which was written and directed by Peter Facinelli.

Formerly titled “Hour of Lead” (which is an even worse title than the generic title “The Vanished”), the movie begins with a happy family trio in their RV camper as they head to a campsite in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not much is detailed about married couple Paul (played by Thomas Jane) and Wendy (played by Anne Heche), such as what they do for a living or where they live, but they seem to have a loving, tight-knit family that includes their 10-year-old daughter Taylor (played by Kk Heim), who likes do sing-alongs with her parents. Also on the trip is the family’s dog: a pug named Lucky.

For whatever reason, the family has decided to take this trip to a remote camping site during the Thanksgiving holiday. (The movie’s story takes place over six days.) When they arrive at the check-in area, they are greeted by the gruff manager Tom (played by John Hickman), who tells them the campsite rules and mentions that the camping area is practically deserted because it’s a slow time of year.

The campsite also has a live-in groundskeeper named Justin Knowles (played by Alex Hayden), who’s in his early 20s, and he doesn’t appear to be very friendly either. When Wendy first sees Justin on the campsite, she gives him a polite wave, but he just frowns at her uncomfortably before going somewhere else. Justin acts nervous and awkward every time Wendy and Paul encounter him. It’s later revealed that Justin is a meth addict with a history of drug-related arrests.

The camping area isn’t that deserted because not long after settling in at the assigned parking spot, Paul meets one of the people whose camper is parked fairly close to his family’s camper. Her name is Miranda (played by Aleksei Archer), who’s in her 30s and physically attractive. Miranda is first seen by Tom while she’s relaxing in a bikini in a portable pool near her camper.

Paul ogles her while she gets out of the pool, they introduce themselves to each other, and they make small talk. Wendy isn’t around to see Paul’s wandering eyes, because at that moment, she’s in the campground’s convenience store (where Tom is the manager) to buy some food and supplies. During Paul and Miranda’s conversation, there’s some underlying attraction/sexual tension between them, which inevitably becomes a problem later in the story. Miranda mentions that she’s on this camping trip with her husband Eric (played by Kristophe Wente), whom Paul and Wendy eventually meet.

When Wendy comes back from the store, she and Paul are shocked to find out that Taylor has gone missing. Taylor was supposed to be in the camper while Wendy was at the store, but apparently Taylor disappeared without a trace while Paul was outside talking to Miranda. The local police are soon on the scene when they are called to look for the missing child.

A no-nonsense local cop named Sheriff Baker (played by Jason Patric) is heading the investigation, with assistance from his loyal second-in-command named Deputy Rakes (played by Facinelli). A fairly large search party begins looking for Taylor in the vast wooded area of the campsite. Meanwhile, a frantic Wendy and Paul are told that they cannot join the search party. Sheriff Baker tells the spouses that they should stay near their camper and wait to hear any news from the police.

After 24 hours have passed and Taylor still hasn’t been found, Wendy and Paul go to the police station to officially file a missing persons report. At the station, they express their irritation and discomfort over being questioned as if they might be responsible for Taylor’s disappearance. However, Sheriff Baker tells Paul and Wendy that it’s standard procedure to investigate the parents when a child goes missing.

Paul and Wendy find out at the police station that an escaped prisoner is suspected of being in the area. While waiting in their camper at night, Wendy becomes increasingly agitated and resentful that she and Paul can’t join in the search party. Against Paul’s better judgment, she convinces him to go with her to do their own search, away from the police’s team.

During their secret search, Paul and Wendy find a man sleeping while he’s camping by himself in the woods. This mystery man has a gun, so Wendy assumes it’s the escaped prisoner and that he must know something about Taylor’s disappearance. And let’s just say that Wendy takes the gun, becomes a little too trigger-happy, and that leads to more problems for the couple.

It’s not really a spoiler to mention this plot development, because a lot of what happens in the movie is revealed in the trailer for “The Vanished.” It’s enough to say that Wendy becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that everyone could be a suspect in Taylor’s disappearance. Paul eventually gets caught up in Wendy’s distrusting mindset. And some reckless actions happen as a result of this paranoia.

Wendy and Paul decide to take the investigation into their own hands—and more complications ensue. Their increasingly illogical actions are explained in the movie as probably cased by sleep deprivation, but even that reason wears thin when Paul and Wendy start doing things that would severely hurt their chances of finding Taylor and just get themselves in more trouble. Heche is more convincing than Jane as a parent who is panic-stricken to find a missing child, but her performance eventually starts to become one-note as the rest of the story unfolds.

Overall, there’s nothing inherently bad about the acting in “The Vanished.” The directing is also adequate, but nothing special. It’s the movie’s clumsily structured screenplay that ruined the potential of “The Vanished” being a good thriller. The plot twist seems like an idea that was thought of first, and then the story was built around that idea in ways that were ill-conceived and then written in a sloppy manner.

It’s as if writer/director Facinelli made the assumption that viewers wouldn’t notice certain glaring omissions from the story that were deliberately left out in order for the plot twist to look like it should compatible with the rest of the movie. The plot twist is meant to elevate the story, but it just ends up sinking the movie, which was already drowning in a swamp of implausibility.

Saban Films released “The Vanished” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 21, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “The Vanished” on DVD on October 20, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Crown Vic’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Luke Kleintank and Thomas Jane in "Crown Vic"
Luke Kleintank and Thomas Jane in “Crown Vic” (Photo by Thomas Scott Stanton)

“Crown Vic”

Directed by Joel Souza

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

Let’s get the inevitable comparison out of the way first: No, “Crown Vic” doesn’t come close to the quality of 2001’s “Training Day,” the Antoine Fuqua-directed drama about corrupt cops that earned Denzel Washington his second Academy Award. If the Oscar-caliber “Training Day” is like filet mignon, then “Crown Vic” is like a McDonald’s hamburger—cheaply made with a lot of questionable filler, but most people who end up consuming it know in advance that they’re getting lowbrow junk.

“Crown Vic” takes place entirely during a night of patrol duty for the cops who are the two central characters—cynical grouch Ray Mandel (played by Thomas Jane) and his younger rookie partner Nick Holland Jr. (played by Luke Kleintank)—while they tool around the streets of Los Angeles in a Ford Crown Victoria squad car. It’s the first night that Nick and Ray are working together, and the movie will be compared to “Training Day” because both movies take place in Los Angeles and are essentially about how an older LAPD cop shows his shocked younger partner how to be brutal and get away with crimes. The younger partner then must make a decision to stop the madness or go along with the corruption that his partner is teaching him. (In “Training Day,” Ethan Hawke played the rookie to Washington’s older criminal cop.)

During the course of Ray and Nick’s extremely eventful night, we see how they handle various criminal activities. Among the dangerous situations they find themselves in are finding a burning car with a person inside; getting involved in an armed robbery and murder; chasing after and arresting a thug who throws a brick at their car; surprising a prowler before he commits a burglary; intervening in a domestic-violence dispute; and hunting down the people who’ve kidnapped a 9-year-old girl who’s been missing for a month.

Ray (who does the driving, of course) is the type of character who might seem somewhat religious because has a St. Anthony medal (St. Anthony is the patron saint of finding lost people), but he has no problem committing police brutality and breaking other laws in full view of his partner. Nick is very by-the-book, and he brings some emotional baggage into the partnership: He’s living in the shadow of his father, a respected, high-ranking cop from the LAPD, but Nick is currently estranged from his father for reasons that aren’t made clear in the movie. Nick, who’s been married for two years, is expecting a baby girl with his pregnant wife, who checks in with him by phone every couple of hours as a good-luck ritual. Nick says of their marriage, “I worry about doing something so stupid, she’ll never want to see me again.”

During their ride together, Ray essentially admits that he’s married to his work and is perfectly okay with not having much of a personal life. He also makes some jaded, wise-cracking quips while on patrol duty. When he lights up a cigarette while driving in the car, and Nick declines to smoke, he tells Nick, “I don’t trust a man with no vices.”

Later, when Ray and Nick arrest a drunk woman with a gun in her car, she begins to have a temper tantrum in the back of the police car after she fails to sweet-talk her way out of the arrest. Ray’s response when she starts kicking and screaming: “Don’t underestimate over-privileged chicks from the Valley. It’s all that yoga. It keeps them in shape.”

It’s the case of the kidnapped 9-year-old girl that takes up a good deal of the story. The girl’s mother is a junkie whom Ray and Nick have met at a restaurant to get more information on the child’s disappearance. Because of the mother’s drug problem and because she didn’t report her missing child right away, Nick and Ray suspect that the child might have been sold by her mother into sex-trafficking.

In the type of unrealistic time frame that can happen in a movie, these two cops working together for the first time for only a few hours are close to solving the kidnapping case when they track down a suspect, who gets hit by a car driven by an undercover cop (played by Faron Salisbury), who’s tweaked out on meth. There’s some police brutality, cops pulling guns on each other, and one of the cops trying to commit suicide—all in this one scene. Then, as if to cram in more action, one of the cops is taken hostage toward the end of the film. Just a reminder: All of this is supposed to happen in one night.

But what really stretches the bounds of credibility is when Ray commits a serious, violent crime in plain view (with street lights on) in the middle of a residential street. He says his police recorder was busted as a way to explain why he won’t get caught, but the movie doesn’t take into account that a big city like Los Angeles has street cameras, not to mention the real probability that all the ruckus would be witnessed by people in the neighborhood who could use their phones to video record what’s happening. Even though “Crown Vic” is supposed to take place in the present day, it’s almost like the script (written by first-time feature director Joel Souza) was so influenced by cop movies from previous decades, like “Training Day” and “Colors,” that the screenplay is stuck in an unrealistic time warp when smartphones didn’t exist and street cameras weren’t as widespread as they are today.

“Crown Vic” is mindless B-movie pulp, through and through. To its credit, it doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. “Crown Vic” star Jane has been making these kinds of movies for quite some time, so people who know his track record should know what they’re signing up for if they watch this film. It’s the kind of movie where Ray gives this speech to Nick to justify Ray’s law-breaking activities: “It’s us against them. You are the sheepdog. They are the sheep. People sleep peacefully at night because rough men do violence on their behalf.”

UPDATE: Screen Media Films will release “Crown Vic” in New York City on November 8, 2019. The movie will be released in additional cities and on VOD on November 15, 2019.