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A Brief Review of “The Wraith” / A Terrible Revenge Power

If you’re a fan of poorly-executed revenge plots, be aware that The Wraith is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It’s the story of a cruel street racing gang that terrorizes a small Arizona town and manages to keep the local population under their thumb. Somehow, even though the local sheriff (played by Randy Quaid) realizes they’re committing virtually dozens of felonies on a daily basis, the gang continually evades arrest. (The Wraith plays by the rule that if nobody will step forward as a witness to the crime, then there’s no possible way to prove it in court – forensics be damned.)

Their reign of terror is in jeopardy one fateful day when a mysterious stranger donning an all-black leather outfit and driving a futuristic-looking sports car shows up in town and starts to knock them off one by one. The movie tries really hard to keep its cards to its chest, so technically it’s a spoiler for me to tell you that the mysterious stranger is Charlie Sheen. But frankly, if you can’t figure that out, then you must not watch movies very often.

It’s ultimately a forgettable movie. It’s got a good “ohmygod, what kind of trashy nonsense is this” vibe going on and it definitely feels like one of those movies you’d want to share at your weekly hipster movie night – but all of that’s on the surface. Most of it is just boring race scenes. There’s not nearly enough gratuitous violence or nudity to make it fun, and not nearly enough ridiculousness to make it compelling.

So why bother writing about it? Well, for one thing, it was the only movie I’ve seen lately and I have to generate content somehow. But beyond that, The Wraith deserves mention for having some of the lamest possible revenge mechanics I’ve ever witnessed.

[Spoiler alert, technically, although as with the Charlie Sheen reveal above, this becomes pretty dang obvious almost immediately.]

See, the whole point of Sheen's character is that he's the reincarnation of a dude who was murdered by the gang's leader, who was jealous of him because he had been dating / sleeping with Sherilyn Fenn.  Said murder victim also has a brother in town who works at the local burger joint, which appears to be the only restaurant in city limits.

Now, the movie doesn't go into much detail about the mechanic's of Sheen's revival or the rules that apply to his revenge plot, so maybe I'm off base for questioning it in the first place.  For all I know, the victim's soul spoke to the Senior Revenge Administrator in Hell and they said, "Sure, you can go back, but you can't actually kill people directly.  You can have a cool car if you want, though."

So you end up with a revenge movie in which the revenging party never actually directly or physically confronts the people who wronged him.  Instead, he silently challenges the bad guys to races, then uses his magic revenge spirit powers to disappear or otherwise distract them, which causes them to all to explode in fiery car crashes.

You do that once and it's a clever and ironic twist.  You do that twice, and your villains are just a bunch of dumbfucks.  It's really hard to sustain suspense, let alone believability, when your idiot villains keep lining up to challenge the mysterious Demon Ghost Car even after all their friends before them have exploded.

Even worse, it kills any sense of badassery the titular Wraith ought to have because he barely ever gets out of the goddamn car.  It's not like the gang is limited by any arbitrary magic spells, so they can inflict their terror whatever the hell way they feel like - and boy, do they.  At one point, they go so far as to beat Sheen's brother to a pulp and then kidnap Fenn, but the Wraith is nowhere to be found.  He's busy jerking off in his car, going, "Hey, bro, I'd love to help, but the Demon Revenge Department doesn't joke around with its ironic contract stipulations.  I promise, just as soon as that guy challenges me to a race, I'll take care of him."

I don't ask for much from my revenge movies.  Give me a clear motive, a couple of good action scenes, and a proactive hero.  The Wraith would almost be there if he just got out of the goddamn car.