'Wheelman' Film Review: Frank Grillo Shines In a Contained Thrill-Ride

The new Netflix original film Wheelman hails from Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo’s War Party Productions. It follows a getaway driver (Grillo) who is double-crossed during a bank robbery gone wrong. With his family on the line, he races to find out exactly who betrayed him before time runs out. The gimmick being that the entire movie is filmed from the inside of the car. If you already have an idea of what a Grillo/Carnahan/Car movie is going to look like, you’re probably right on the money. Luckily, if you’re a fan of those involved, you’ll probably drive away entertained.

A film set entirely within the confines of a car is not the most original idea. In the past five years alone we’ve seen Locke, Vehicle 19,and Brake attempt this premise with varying degrees of success. What sets Wheelman apart is its constant onslaught of crime movie tropes that do enough to change up the typical formula, but never so much as to complicate the film’s effective, streamlined plot. There’s twists, turns, and double crosses galore, all adding up to a very solid debut outing from writer-director Jeremy Rush (fittingly named).

Every time Wheelman feels like it’s stretching its premise too thin, there’s another twist to suck you right back in. That these seams are visible is a flaw, but it’s to be expected when trying to contort to a one location gimmick. Annoyingly (minor spoilers), the film briefly breaks its own rules by following the Wheelman outside of the car. I was left wondering what the point was of all the previous efforts to keep all of the action inside the car if they’re just going to abandon it when work-arounds get more difficult to pull off. It’s a bit of a premise breaking moment in what is an otherwise well thought out exercise.

Rush’s sleek visuals and rapid pacing keep the film engaging throughout. Truly, though, this is Grillo’s picture from top to bottom. He owns this movie, holds it all together, shellacking over any blemish he comes across along the way. Without Grillo’s gravitas, Wheelman is a D-grade B-movie. With Grillo behind the wheel, this engine’s got some real nice kick to it.