David Janssen, the king of the pained facial expression, plays a different sort of fugitive in Night Chase, a somewhat compelling thriller that anticipates the premise of the Tom Cruise movie Collateral (2004), but follows through on the premise with a story that makes a whole lot more sense. Running 95 minutes, long by ’70s-telefilm standards, Night Chase gets repetitive and slow at times, so viewers who enjoy seeing vintage footage of Southern California will get more out of the experience than others. That said, the script is clear and efficient, Jack Starrett’s direction sets an understated tone that suits the material, and costar Yaphet Kotto’s performance is so loose and vivid that he greatly elevates the material. Ultimately, Night Chase isn’t consequential in terms of social relevance or themes, so it’s just a disposable thriller with welcome aspects of humanism. Nonetheless, with so many pointlessly nihilistic thrillers out there, the compassion infusing Night Chase makes watching the picture mildly edifying.
As in Collateral, the story gets underway when a mysterious white man flags down a black cab driver for a ride. Specifically, Adrian (Janssen) grabs a taxi from the Los Angeles International Airport after his flight gets cancelled. Ernie (Kotto) gets the fare, and he’s surprised when Adrian asks for a 200-mile ride to San Diego. Once the men are in close quarters, Ernie catches disturbing clues—blood on Adrian’s shirt, skittishness whenever police cars pass the cab. Eventually, it emerges that Adrian shot a man in Baltimore, and he’s on the way to Mexico, where he plans to use his gun again.
The remaining details are best discovered as the story unfolds, but the gist is that Adrian feels tortured by not only what he’s already done but by what he’s contemplating doing next. Although saying that Janssen’s performance is infused with nuance would require considerable overstatement, he mimics anguish well, and his intensity is sufficiently persuasive that it’s believable when he makes everyone around him nervous. Kotto’s work exists on a different level. At the beginning of the picture, he conveys affability and world-weariness in equal measure, and as the story progresses, he hits notes of despair, heroism, and terror. Night Chase is yet another reminder of his incredible power and versatility. While the film is mostly a two-hander, Elisha Cook Jr., William Katt, and Victoria Vetri all do strong work in small supporting roles.
Night Chase: FUNKY