Kurt Russell, Kathleen Quinlan

Breakdown is going to wreak havoc on a number of moviegoers' summer vacation plans. After catching this high-octane thriller and seeing what bad things can happen to good people out there on our nation's highways, anyone planning a cross-country drive may decide to cancel before even gassing up.

The good people here are Russell and Quinlan, a yuppie couple headed from Massachusetts to San Diego for new jobs. When their brand-new, cherry-red Jeep Grand Cherokee sputters to a stop in the middle of the desert somewhere west of the Rockies, Quinlan jokingly moans of their trip, "This could be the worst decision we ever made." Correctomundo, lady. It turns out that their car was tampered with at the last gas station by a gang of nasty, truck-driving rubes who prey on rich folks passing through. These bad guys kidnap Quinlan and play vicious cat-and-mouse games with Russell as he frantically tries to track her down. (Russell doesn't do himself any favors when, at the only cafe for miles around, he asks the scruffy locals if anyone has seen his wife. "She's wearing a white Benetton sweater," he says, mistaking these sartorially sorry codgers for Elle subscribers.)

The movie, deftly directed by Jonathan Mostow, doesn't provide much in the way of character development or deeper meaning. But it does have a pip of a plot, a straight-ahead, ratchet-up-the-suspense approach to its narrative, and a slam-bang final sequence involving multiple trucks that recalls Steven Spielberg's virtuoso work in his 1971 TV movie Duel. Russell, in scaled-down Clint Eastwood mode, nails his character's mounting panic and matching resourcefulness. Quinlan has a few good scenes early on but then disappears for much of the film. Breakdown won't change your life, but it will keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat for two hours. Sometimes that's enough. (R)

Vincent Gallo, Kim Dickens, Kiefer Sutherland, Mykelti Williamson

Imperiled yuppies seem to be the flavor of the week. There are two in this movie too. Directed by and starring Sutherland, Truth or Consequences, N.M. yearns to be a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde. Its star-crossed lovers are not the terrorized upscale couple (Kevin Pollack and Grace Phillips) but rather a sensitive ex-con (Gallo) and his waifish gal pal (Dickens), who team with two others (Sutherland and Williamson) to rob a drug dealer. The robbery goes wrong, a cop dies, and the four hit the road, taking Pollack and Phillips as hostages.

None of this is very compelling or original. Although a final shoot-out is well-staged, Sutherland overindulges his cast, especially himself. His frothing psycho, a bully who'd as soon shoot someone as tell them the time, is the kind of smug, look-at-me performance that a better director would have turned a hose on at rehearsal.

Aidan Quinn, Courteney Cox Arquette

Brush up on your Old Testament before seeing Commandments, a black comedy with a surprisingly sentimental heart lurking beneath its cynical veneer. There are elements of Job, Moses and Jonah in this story of a doctor (Quinn) who suffers big-time after his pregnant wife (Joanna Going, in an unbilled cameo) accidentally drowns. In short order his house collapses in a storm, he's fired from his job, and he's struck by lightning. Deciding God has it out for him, he resolves to retaliate by breaking each of the Ten Commandments, a plan that turns out to be both easier and more difficult than he expected.

As the questing doctor, Quinn shows just the right mix of loss and outrage—not to mention possessing baby blues that rival Paul Newman's for expressiveness. Playing his too-loving sister-in-law, Cox (Friends) shows more depth here than she has in previous screen efforts, and Anthony LaPaglia (Murder One) is sour fun as her no-good husband. In his first feature film, director-screenwriter Daniel Taplitz is helped heaps by ravishing work from cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, who makes New York City look like a shimmering dream. (R)

Llyr Evans, Rhys Ifans

An unlikely but wildly enjoyable hybrid, this Welsh comedy combines the dopey humor of Wayne's World, the doped-up chic of Trainspotting and, oddest of all, the sort of spectacularly violent revenge ethic that one associates with those unforgiving Corleones. Filmed in Swansea in South Wales, Twin Town takes place in a loud, tacky world of trailer parks, massage parlors and karaoke bars. Teenage twins Julian and Jeremy (non-twin brothers Evans and Ifans, the latter using the Welsh spelling) spend their days hot-rodding cars, dealing drugs to senior citizens and hitting ye old bong. When their father, a handyman, is injured doing roofing work, the contractor refuses to pay his insurance and the twins decide to mete out their own brand of justice. There's no point giving away any more of the plot beyond that, except to say that a poodle named Fergie pays a terrible price. (Not rated)

>Volcano's Dangerous Effects

SOME LIKE IT HOT

A MOLTEN RIVER OF FIRE SPILLS DOWN WILSHIRE BOULEVARD, turning La-La Land into Lava Land. Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche (the now well-known love of Ellen DeGeneres) are running for their lives until they see a hapless Angeleno fall into the path of the volcanic ooze. Jones, playing the chief of L.A.'s emergency services, and Heche, as a seismologist, try to pull him to safety when suddenly—kaboom!—a massive palm tree bursts into flames. Though the explosion is scripted, the fiery fronds fall perilously close to the actors and crew—so close that the cameramen flee their equipment. Still, the cameras keep rolling, and Jones and Heche finish the scene. "I almost caught on fire," Heche, 27, later exclaims. "It was definitely a close call." Jones, 50, seems equally unnerved. "We are not interested in danger," he says. "We are interested in the illusion of danger."

Illusion abounds in Volcano, the first of this year's warm-weather disaster epics, starting with the premise of a volcano erupting from beneath L.A.'s La Brea Tar Pits. "My motto is that if you are going into implausibility territory," jokes director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard), "go boldly." To that end the 300-plus-member crew took over a parking lot outside L.A. for two months last spring and built a replica of a 1,500-foot stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. They made lava from water and a food additive used to thicken milk shakes. They created ash out of shredded paper and baking soda. And those car-size lava bombs shooting out of the volcano? "We used an extremely high-tech method" in the miniature version of the set, says special effects chief Mat Beck. "Kingsford charcoals." Barbecue anyone?

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Ken Baker.