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A confined setting is a useful tool for thriller-makers, and Vacancy is definitely boxed in: a run-down motel way, way off the Interstate, the kind of place where unsuspecting movie characters go to get stabbed to death in the shower. If Vacancy doesn't quite live up to its Hitchcockian forbears, at least it provides 80 minutes of well-designed mayhem. You know somebody's paying attention just from the opening credits, a clever vortex with pounding music by Paul Haslinger. Then we meet unhappy couple Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, driving along in the dark and forced to stay at the Pinewood Motel after a car breakdown. There's a night man (Frank Whaley, World Trade Center) in the tradition of Dennis Weaver's Touch of Evil gargoyle, but the real mess of trouble is waiting in room number 4.
Director Nimrod Antal, who scored a stylish international hit with the Hungarian thriller Kontroll, squeezes maximum juice out of the Route 66 atmosphere of the motel, although the movie doesn't get under your skin the way Kontroll did. Wilson and Beckinsale are a little too marquee-namish for this kind of heavy-breathing work, and the script doesn't give them much to play with. But hey, it's not that kind of movie. Where it really belongs is on the top half of a drive-in double bill, or maybe as a nightmare-scenario TV movie from the Seventies. Either way, it works. --Robert Horton, Amazon.com
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