‘He’s not from around here…’ is a good tag-line for a film, and it does fit Mike Marvin’s The Wraith, even if the actual man-and-machine components of the film don’t quite gel. The Wraith was an indie film that had a very cool VHS jacket; a helmeted, space-suited figure emerging from a jet-black sports car. Word on the street, however, indicated that The Wraith had little actual fantasy or supernatural content, and I’d confidently skipped it until it popped up last week on Amazon Prime. Part of the general lack of enthusiasm may be attributed to a tragic on-set death, but that’s never been an obstacle to reviewing Batman or James Bond movies, so let’s get on with our assessment.
The Wraith is a revenge story, but starts after the incident being revenged; Jacob (Charlie Sheen) is killed by a gang run by Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes), and returns from the dead with some prominent scars, but also a souped-up car and some extra-terrestrial help. In fact, with The Wraith appearing as a suited and booted, helmeted figure in the action scenes, and lots of stunt-driving, Sheen is rarely spotted, despite nominally being the star of the film. Fortunately there’s decent support, from Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn as his gal, and Randy Quaid as a local sheriff who suspects foul play.
The Wraith takes place in and around a sparsely-populated Arizona township, where a Big Kay’s Burger joint is the main point of social interaction. This minimal set sees a lot of action, but The Wraith is pretty lame when it confines itself to local feuds. The action scenes are actually solid, with some energetic pursuits, some great stunts and a really pulse-pounding finish that rounds off the narrative well.
The Wraith isn’t getting the Criterion treatment anytime soon, but it’s streaming release should amuse genre fans; horror or fantasy die-hards need not apply, but petrol-heads should find plenty to enjoy in the hard-rocking race-and-chase antics featured here. And Charlie Sheen completists will want to sample his minimalist performance here, whether he’s a spirit, and alien or whatever, he certainly gives you the feeling that he’s just visiting .