Kurt Russell plays a husband searching for his missing wife, who disappeared when their car broke down on a desert highway.
Blend Steven Spielberg's Duel with John Boorman's Deliverance and chuck in a touch of yuppie-retribution movie and the end result is not, surprisingly, the expected hotchpotch but an incredibly tense, gripping, white-knuckle treat, which eschews high concept in favour of strong plotting and nail-chewing tension.
Director Mostow's impressive take on the road movie is a brief dip into everyone's nightmare - Russell and Quinlan are a married couple driving cross-country when their car breaks down. Friendly trucker Walsh stops and offers them a lift to the nearest phone. She accepts while Russell opts to stay and look after their precious wheels. When the desert equivalent of the AA fails to show, he manages to make his way to the next truck-stop, only to find no sign of his wife. Worse still, trucker Walsh claims he's never seen Russell before in his life, let alone his wife. With the police doing a damn fine impression of doubting people named Thomas and the locals seemingly uninterested, Russell takes things into his own hands in order to uncover what's become of his missus.
The great thing about Breakdown is simply that what you see is what you get. Want 90 minutes of edge of the seat tension? You got it. Want an unravelling nightmare that stays with you long after the movie? You got it. Want a decent performance from Kurt Russell, here firmly playing the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation? You even get that. By knowingly acknowledging the influence of Duel and Deliverance, Mostow fully delivers on all his promises, with a film that knows how to both rely on and build genuine suspense in favour of tired action set pieces.
As anti-redneck as you can get, Breakdown is destined to be one of the great thrillers of 1998.