Clones, rip-offs and copycats are nothing new in cinema. Long before The Asylum built a business model off of their ‘mockbusters’, low budget companies had no qualms rushing out sloppily crafted content to fill theatres and rental stores to cash in on mainstream fads. Star Wars had Battle Beyond the Stars, Indiana Jones had Canon’s King Solomon’s Mines and Rambo had Missing In Action.
Often, these rip-offs come/came out of America, Italy, Turkey and Hong Kong (all key filmmaking hubs of the mid to late twentieth century), but not often talked about as much are British productions. The Anomaly, The Sweeney and a dozen Danny Dyer vehicles are all efforts to make more American-style projects (sci-fi thriller, franchise actioner and stylish gangster films), but in 2000, Ireland tried to go one better and beat the trend. Renny Harlin’s Driven and the first Fast and The Furious movie were in production, while Dominic Senna’s remake of Gone In 60 Seconds was about to hit theatres. Car movies were about to be very in, so the Emerald Isle responded with actor-composer Vinny Murphy’s Accelerator.
The plot is what you’d expect from this combination of genre and country: a bunch of Irish yobos agree to race from Belfast to Dublin for a collective wager after two of them get in a fight. The archetypes are all present and accounted for in this crew: the bad boy trying to go straight, the psycho, the sassy girl, the level-headed best friend, the pushover, the geeks, the sisters and the emo (they’ve even got names like Crunchy, Boo and Whacker).
Of course, the draw of films like this are the car chases. Despite the odd choice of location, the racing sequences are actually decently photographed and edited, meaning they are easy to follow without getting too jumpy or frenetic. That said, however, there is just no way of making old bangers like Volvos and Saabs look cool, and the Dublin backstreet and countryside is no substitute for the night lights and flare of LA, no matter how much fast paced music you blare over it. Indeed, the synthy-percussion heavy score is akin to a PS1/N64 race game like the early Gran Turismos or V-Rally (it even has some bwap sounds for good measure). Sometimes it felt like I was watching a full motion video sequence from said games, waiting for the start icon to come up, and the weird fonts for the opening credits that bend like early WordArt don’t help in this regard.
As for the glue binding these elements together, the character drama is pretty standard and not terribly layered, much like the performances from the young cast. Thematically, it does have a little something going with the then-still-high tensions between the two halves of Ireland, but it’s never meaningfully explored in any way. The characters don’t really undergo meaningful changes or arcs (though there’s a slightly sweet bit between the quiet one and the emo girl about appearances) and the stakes never feel high as there isn’t any strong conflict or possible loss other than our lead not being able to go to Barcelona (which he feels the need to remind you of quite a few times).
Of course, one could be tempted to say, ‘but the lack of conventional resolution and style is the point! It’s like Human Traffic or Trainspotting, but with cars! It’s meant to be grungy and realistic!’ The only problem with this rebuttal? The film doesn’t commit to this idea: between the Barcelona angle, the overblown music, pointless uses of slow-mo (can’t possibly imagine what late 90s movie influenced THAT decision…) and an overabundance of characters with different dynamics, it’s just a mess. It wants to be the kitchen sink, but still, play in Hollywood’s pool, and it just doesn’t come together.
It comes as no surprise why Accelerator never quite caught onto the lightning from its American counterparts, nor spawned the sequels and imitators that other British action properties like The Football Factory and Green Street did. It’s a pale clone of bigger and better films, and it just conveys an air or trying far, far too hard to be cool instead of telling a compelling story or using its meagre resources to the best of its ability.
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