There is a certain movie formula where an ordinary man must do something illegal and dangerous (usually to save a loved one), but the task goes awry and he spends the next 24 hours running from bad guys (usually drug traffickers), becoming increasingly battered from all the auto wrecks and leaps from rooftops before finally beating them at their own game and limping off into the sunset (usually with a bag of money). These films are seldom great, often bad, but sometimes like Collide: breezily paced, no frills, mildly ludicrous but perfectly watchable, and buoyed by hammy villains.
In Germany, a reformed American ne'er-do-well named Casey (Nicholas Hoult), needing money for his girlfriend Juliette's (Felicity Jones) kidney transplant, takes a job from a Turkish psycho he used to work for named Geran (Sir Ben Kingsley). The job: to steal a cocaine-filled truck from respected businessman/secret drug lord Hagen Kahl (Sir Anthony Hopkins), with whom Geran has a beef. Casey and his pal Matthias (Marwan Kenzari) plan and execute the heist cleverly, but not cleverly enough. Matthias ends up in hiding and Casey goes on the run.
Director Evan Creevy (Welcome to the Punch), who co-wrote the screenplay with F. Scott Frazier (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), oversees some very well-shot chase sequences, most involving high-end BMWs but a few on foot. The adrenaline-charged vehicular mayhem is effective, as is Casey's determination to get up after every beating and keep going. Hoult conveys a working-class averageness that makes him easy to identify with.
More important, however, are the villains. We are blessed with two in this case, both played by Oscar-winning British knights. Kingsley is over-the-top as Geran, a jumpy, erratic thug who owns racehorses and hookers and asks Casey if he knows the difference between them. ("Me neither" is Geran's reply to his own question.) He calls Casey "Burt Reynolds," citing his resemblance to the once-handsome actor before lamenting that "now he look like mannequin."
At the other end of the crazy spectrum is Hopkins' Hagen Kahl, who is somehow the German son of a Nazi but has an English accent. Well-dressed and polite, Hagen is more subdued than Geran, save for moments when he RANDOMLY YELLS certain WORDS like a common Nicolas Cage. He briefly impersonates Rocky Balboa once, calls Casey "bro" another time, and drops casual references to torture and death in a way that only a sociopath can. Hopkins and Kingsley have a few scenes together where they try to out-ham each other, but that battle ends in a tie.
The plot relies on several unlikely things (like Germans always leaving their keys in their cars), and the film cheats a little by withholding information so it can surprise us with it later. I viewed this tactic like a judge on Law & Order: you're on thin ice, but I'll allow it. Still, Creevy shows ambition in the action scenes and even tries to convey Casey's state of mind through occasional impressionistic interludes. Ignore the implausible plotting and enjoy the crunch.
Eric D. Snider runs from drug traffickers in Portland, Ore.