Author: Michael Gilvary
Writer’s Potential: 7
A vacationing family becomes embroiled in a bank robbery when they discover the loot hidden in their luggage.
Four criminals (MAREK, a cool-headed sociopath; EVERS, the hired muscle; LOSADA, the loudmouthed worry wart; and ARIELLE, the token woman) navigate uncooperative traffic as they try to flee a crime that remains unmentioned at first (it ultimately turns out to be a bank robbery). The foursome argue about the route to take. When they see a roadblock, Marek pulls off at a rest stop until they can come up with a plan. After nixing the ideas of splitting up and meeting later or walking 120 miles to the Mexican border, Arielle comes up with the plan to hide their $4 million loot among the luggage in the SUV of a vacationing family brimming with suitcases and camping equipment; after they all make it past the roadblock, they’ll track the SUV until it stops, steal the loot back, and disappear to Mexico.
The family are the Sidwells: NATE (late 30s) seemingly a bored suburban pencil pusher; ROBYN (late 30s) his attractive wife; KENNY (12), a pudgy dork; and SHANE (14), hip and athletic. While the Sidwells uses the restroom, the robbers ditch their guns and hide their huge black duffel bag inside the Sidwells’ tent packaging. Marek refuses to give up his police scanner. The Sidwells and the robbers ease back into the unmoving traffic, gradually making their way toward the roadblocks. The robbers make it through in part because of Marek’s belligerence regarding why he has a police scanner (Marek later claims that no bank robber would be stupid enough to argue about this at a police roadblock). The Sidwells make it through because they have no cause to be searched. Arielle is thrilled that her planned has worked, even though they have lost sight of the Sidwells’ SUV. Before long, they find it on the horizon. It occurs to Marek that there are no campgrounds in the area, which suggests that this family is planning on roughing it in the middle of nowhere. In the Sidwells’ SUV, tension creeps into the family. It becomes evident that Nate has spent time away from the family, and this trip is an awkward attempt at bonding.
Robyn spots a diner and wants to stop. This pleases the criminals tailing them, but they’re quickly frustrated when she changes her mind and the SUV continues moving. Nate notices the sedan following them—its turn signal went on after Nate’s, and went off after they decided not to stop. Suspicious, he starts speeding up. The sedan matches their speed. Robyn orders Nate to slow down, but he refuses. Arielle spots a speed trap ahead, and the sedan slows to below the speed limit—but Nate keeps going and gets pulled over by an officer, PAOLO. Against Paolo’s orders, Nate hops out of the SUV to explain the situation as the sedan speeds past. Paolo doesn’t believe him and informs Nate that his speed (109 mph) qualifies him for a misdemeanor. Nate pleads with Paolo, telling him he’s an ex-con—just released from a federal prison for real estate fraud. Paolo’s concerned about Nate crossing state lines while on parole, but Nate insists he cleared it with his parole officer. Paolo is sympathetic, but he has to do his job. When Nate reaches to Paolo to grab his arm, he accidentally puts his hand on Paolo’s gun. Paolo freaks out, draws his weapon, and arrests Nate. Meanwhile, the criminal gang waits in the nearby town of Gila Bend, staring at the Interstate for signs of the SUV. They’re surprised by how long the routine traffic stop has taken.
Nate is dragged into the Gila Bend station. He begs Paolo to take some pity on him. The police decide to put the rest of the Sidwells up in a motel. Kenny is upset that his dad has been arrested; Shane is irritated; and Robyn is frustrated with the feeling that she doesn’t know her husband. The boys are given a room separate from Robyn. Realizing something has gone awry, the criminals check out the motel and find the SUV, which has been completely unpacked by the boys (who notice the heavy bag but don’t realize it’s not theirs). They break into Robyn’s room, waking her up. Terrified, she calls 911, but they bust into the room too quickly, so she hangs up and hides in the bathroom, breaking the window and screaming for help. The motel is empty, so help doesn’t come. Nate overhears the police radio report of an incomplete 911 call. Paolo is dispatched, and Nate begs to go with. Arielle listens to the police scanner while the men bust into the hotel. She honks the horn to let them know the police are on their way, and they bail without finding the money, which is in the adjoining room. They’re all baffled as to why somebody would break into their room, mess things up, and not take anything. Nate speculates they were drug addicts looking for cash or jewelry. Meanwhile, the criminals snipe at each other over how badly this plan has played out.
The next morning, Losada buys a bunch of tools to help the gang bust open the SUV. They continue to wait by the Interstate and are frustrated to find it has a police escort. Listening to the police scanner, they’re pleased to hear the escort has ended at the town line. The sedan roars into action, following the SUV. A bungee cord goes slack, banging against the roof, driving the Sidwells insane. Nate stops, and he and Robyn adjust the luggage. Nate innocently tosses the money bag onto the ground. Robyn notices it doesn’t belong and unzips it, finding the money from the bank robbery. She flips out, accusing Nate of being in on the robbery. Nate vehemently denies it, but Robyn tears off in the SUV, with the kids and all the luggage but the duffel bag. Meanwhile, nobody in the sedan notices Nate on the side of the road. They’re focused on the SUV. Nate lugs the heavy bag filled with money to some railroad tracks. He sees a utility truck on the tracks and calls for help, but the man ignores him. Nate sees the sedan in the distance, headed right for the SUV. He drops the bag of money and runs across the desert, back to the highway, trying (and failing) to warn them as the sedan smashes into the back of the SUV, running it off the road.
The criminals descend on the SUV like vultures, going through all the baggage, horrified to find the money is gone. Robyn screams that they don’t have it. Marek realizes Nate isn’t with them. Shane tries to fight back, but it’s no use—these are bad people who are big and armed with hammers and crowbars. Marek and Arielle hop into the SUV with the Sidwells. Nate is baffled as they pass him again, in the opposite direction. Nobody notices him on the side of the road. He sees Losada and Evers following in the van. They stop and demand the money. Nate refuses to tell them where he hid it until they give him his family. They shove him into the sedan and follow the SUV. Losada calls Marek, who turns around. Nate orders Marek to let his family go. Marek threatens the family, so Nate leads them all to the mile marker where he left the money—but it’s gone. Nate tries to play this off like it’s his plan to mislead them so they’ll release his family. They don’t buy it, but it’s distracting enough that Nate makes a break for it, running on foot down the highway. His running distracts them enough that Robyn is able to speed away in the SUV with the kids. Down the highway, they pick up Nate, while the criminals scramble to get back in the sedan. The SUV is overheating, so Nate doubles back toward Gila Bend so they can repair the radiator.
Nate explains that the robbers used the family to get through the roadblock unscathed. Robyn demands to know why he didn’t give them the money. Nate sidesteps the question by telling her getting the money won’t spare their lives—they’ve seen the criminals’ faces. Marek orders the others to kill Robyn and Shane but keep Kenny as leverage to get Nate to talk. Nate sees an oncoming car in the distance—it’s Paolo. Nate explains everything to Paolo, but Marek speeds up and plows into Paolo, killing him instantly. The Sidwells drive away, panicked. The sedan follows. Marek has stolen Paolo’s gun, which he fires at the SUV, finally destroying the radiator. They flee into the desert, hidden by the brush. Eventually, they lose the criminals and come upon the railroad tracks and the utility truck. Nate tries to beg for help, but Shane accuses the driver of stealing the money. He claims to not know what they’re talking about. The conversation goes on long enough that the criminals find the Sidwells. They kill the railroad worker, but the Sidwells get away in his utility truck, driving it until the railroad ends.
Arguing over what to do about the family, Marek kills Arielle, to Losada’s surprise. Shane notices an abandoned shack near the end of the tracks. They hope for a phone, but all they find is a shortwave radio—and the bag filled with money. Robyn feels bad for doubting Nate. Shane turns on the radio, which surprisingly works. He calls for the police, but the soonest they can get there is 30 minutes. They can hear the criminals in the distance. Nate goes after them, and Marek shoots, wounding Nate. Marek demands to know where the family is. Shane finds a hunting rifle in the shack, along with some shells. He starts shooting at the arriving criminals. Shane spots a gas-powered generator and starts dumping out gas onto the money. He threatens that he’ll burn all the loot if they don’t let the Sidwells go. They threaten to slit Nate’s throat if Shane doesn’t give up the money. Desperate, Shane drops the money outside, but Losada prepares to slit Nate’s throat, anyway. Robyn shoots Losada before he can, which starts the gunfire again. In the chaos, Shane drops his lit Zippo. A gasoline trail works its way toward the lighter, sending a burst of flames across the shack, engulfing the money in flames. The Sidwells narrowly escape the shack, which is also in flames. Nate uses the distraction to steal Marek’s gun and kill Marek and Evers. Nate’s injured, possibly dying, but he’s saved the family, who gather around him, hoping he’ll last until the distant sirens get closer.
Transit is a fun, fast-paced action script with a surprising amount of heart. Its most significant problem is that the four villainous bank robberies are entirely interchangeable. However, the engaging plot, interesting family conflicts, and entertaining action sequences merit this script a strong consider.
The first act does a solid job of establishing the two sets of characters (the bank robbers and the Sidwells) and the somewhat convoluted machinations that will pit them against each other throughout the rest of the script. The writer also manages to throw in some genuine surprises, like the reveal that mild-mannered Nate is a recently paroled ex-con. This automatically adds an additional layer of intrigue to the Sidwells’ interactions, and the writer does an excellent job of using the family’s inability to trust Nate to generate conflict and develop the characters throughout the story.
The raid on the motel that starts the second act goes on a little too long, and the writer rushes past the thin explanation for Nate’s release. He also focuses too much on the criminals’ side of the story without ever making them particularly compelling characters. Nevertheless, once Robyn discovers the money among their luggage, the story kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up until the end. While entertaining, the action sequences aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before. However, the writer does a capable job of keeping the suspense palpable and stakes high throughout the second and third acts.
The third act keeps the action level high, but it’s somewhat undermined by how worthless the villains are as characters. Rather than putting the villains up against a metaphorical wall and testing their loyalty to one another when their lives are at stake, the writer simply uses them as additional fodder for the Sidwells to come after. The inexplicable murder of Arielle is an off-putting, fairly meaningless moment that solely exists to remind the audience that these are bad people, as if they’re likely to forget that detail when the entire second and third act involves them chasing, beating, and threatening the Sidwells. Where the third act shines is with the Sidwells’ realization that Nate never lied to them—he didn’t hide the money or have anything to do with the robbery—which allows for a tidy (but not too tidy, as Nate lies wounded on the ground) resolution as the Sidwells finally get what they wanted out of the trip: to reconnect as a family.
As characters, the Sidwells work and the bank robbers don’t. The reason for this is that the writer wisely gave the Sidwell family a personal conflict that affects all of them in different ways. How they react to Nate’s prison term allows their personalities to shine through and, to some extent, motivates the actions that drive their story. Nate works better than most “everyman” action heroes, because he’s an everyman with a dark side. It makes his transformation into wild, murderous protector more believable. Robyn, Shane, and Kenny aren’t quite as well-developed, but their unique responses to Nate and the bank money add a certain level of nuance that’s usually missing from the stock “family in need of protection.”
Conversely, the bank robbers have very little interpersonal conflict. They argue a little bit about the money, but it shows nothing about the characters that isn’t already abundantly clear. The four of them are ruthless sociopaths, differentiated only by nationality and gender. The script would work a little better if at least one of these characters had some kind of well-defined need for the money (other than greed). There are a lot of vague references to them needing to deliver this money to somebody in Nogales, but this seems less like a motivation than an excuse to kill a defenseless family—something they all seem like they’d be more than happy to do even if they weren’t giving part of the money to some offscreen mystery man.
Despite the story and character problems, this is a very entertaining thriller that can only be enhanced by a solid cast and good action director.