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Ah, a thriller that looks as though it could deliver on the promises of its genre. I mean, come on, we have Luke Wilson, a decent actor taking a dramatic turn, the fantastic Frank Whaley, one of the most underused character actors around, director Nimrod Antal following up his critically acclaimed Kontroll, and the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale to light up the screen—I’ll admit, I would have seen Vacancy just based on her involvement alone. We have some real nice talent here and a premise, while not wholly original, that could be just what the film needs. Truthfully, I was there for pretty much the first hour, and then it all fell apart, fast and hard.

Wilson and Beckinsale really do a phenomenal job at creating their roles to be correct in emotion and action. The two have recently lost their young son to a domestic accident and are on their way home from an awkward family party to finally make their divorce official. With some nice witty and meaningful dialogue, we are shown a strained interchange on the highway as the two clash with patience wearing thin, only to escalate when their car breaks down just past a motel/gas station stop. They walk back and take a room to wait for the mechanic, played nicely also by Ethan Embry, to return in the morning. After some prank-like door knocking and strange behavior from the eccentric motel manager, the fun begins just in time. It is a flawless transition from the character building exposition to the point where Whaley’s manager is found to be in on the snuff film that appears to have found its two new stars.

What happens next is a series of cat and mouse chase sequences between inside the motel room and outside in the parking lot, along with the manager’s office and gas station via an underground tunnel system. There is suspense and tension throughout and I was fully caught up into the action right up until Wilson opens the door of their last motel room. The couple was brilliant onscreen as all the conflicts and petty differences from before slowly melt away into the love and compassion they have for each other’s safety. I couldn’t wait for the final thirty minutes to hopefully not screw up. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered though.

Vacancy’s conclusion soon turns into the same run of the mill finish all this Hollywood-fare gives. The competent writing becomes rushed, almost hoping that if it finishes quick we won’t realize the complete cop-out we are given for an otherwise marginally fresh telling of an often-used thriller storyline. My viewing was treated with some surprises along the way, but all that ends much too soon. Well, scratch that, it’s not without “surprises,” it’s just that those “surprises” are so predictable and canned that they have become commonplace. I would like to think that the derailing during the final third is due to producer interference because the rest was so enthralling, but who really knows? All that worked between good and evil, without many clichés or characters doing stupid things to benefit the plot, eventually turns into a thread of moments that occur only to proceed to the next point. Our entertainment turns to generic popcorn mediocrity with an ending that is so odd, I had to stay until the end of the credits because there must have been more to it. Alas, and maybe thankfully, there was not.

Vacancy 5/10

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photography:
[1] KATE BECKINSALE and LUKE WILSON star in Screen Gems’ VACANCY. Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner. Copyright© 2006 Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.. All rights reserved.

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