Collide stars Nicholas Hoult as an American car thief and ex-drug dealer who gets involved in a cockamamie German cocaine heist in order to pay for a kidney transplant for his girlfriend (Felicity Jones) and ends up on the wrong side of a psycho trafficker (Anthony Hopkins) in a powder-blue suit. That’s more melodrama than the film needs, because Collide (titled Autobahn outside the States) has been put on this Earth for one purpose: solid, wholesome car-on-road, car-on-car action. Its English director, Eran Creevy (Welcome To The Punch), handles this with due competence—screeching tires, growling engines, grips tightening on steering wheels, and windshields shattering into glass confetti, cut from the usual surfeit of angles. The rest is unexceptional, a hodgepodge of corny voice-over and repetitive, anticlimactic plotting, with Hoult and Jones miscast as a couple of party-hardy American expats. But it isn’t unpleasant to look at.
Creevy and his co-writer, F. Scott Frazier (xXx: Return Of Xander Cage), seem to think that the audience needs to know a character’s entire relationship history before they can understand why he would run from a man who’s shooting at him. Thus, we are introduced to Casey (Hoult) as a low-level dealer who works the nightclubs of Cologne alongside his buddy Matthias (Marwan Kenzari) on behalf of Geran (Ben Kingsley), a drug-addled Turkish crime lord who is never seen without his future-disco Cazal 858 sunglasses. He meets Juliet (Jones), goes straight, and gets a job at a metal scrap yard; she develops medical problems that, for vague reasons, aren’t covered by German health care, leading Casey back to Geran after much hand-wringing. It’s this kind of belabored premise that truly challenges a critic’s gifts for summary.
In exchange for a sizable payday, Casey and Matthias are to hijack a truckload of cocaine-filled golf balls meant for Geran’s main supplier, Hagen (Hopkins). Of course, the plan doesn’t pan out, and Casey goes on the run, in possession of several million euros that the trafficker had stashed in a luxury car, pursued back to Cologne by Hagen’s bearded assassins, who all look like hipster undertakers. This leads our hero to steal a succession of increasingly faster cars and to spend an astounding amount of screen time leaving voicemails for other characters. Hoult, who played the skeletal war boy Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road, has gotten very good at pretending to drive a car very fast while the camera gets tighter and tighter on his face; here, he expands his range a little by doing it with a cellphone pressed against his cheek.
At this point, a reader might wonder whether the cocaine-filled golf balls have some kind of payoff—say, tens of millions in drugs bounced down the asphalt out the back of a speeding semi-trailer. The answer is no. Like a distracted driver constantly missing his highway exit, Collide keeps passing on opportunities for action in favor of patience-straining exposition. The fact that the presumptive climax is explained by one character to another from across a table almost makes it feel like the movie ran out of cash somewhere along the way. But while Creevy struggles with the basics of suspense—often indulging in the same hacky, buzz-killing slow motion shots as he did in Welcome To The Punch—his direction of the film’s modestly conceived action sequences is serviceable: a relentless foot chase through the winding streets and picturesque houses of a medieval town; an escape from a Hagen-owned warehouse that’s directed in part as a Children Of Men-style long take; and the centerpiece, a head-spinning, car-wrecking pursuit down the Autobahn.