To date, not counting spin-offs, original screenplays and the “Dollar Babies” there have been around 50 feature films or miniseries based on Stephen King’s novels and short stories. To put that in perspective, there have been fourteen adaptations of Michael Crichton books. There are only ten John Grisham films. Maybe it’s not that hard to believe he’s outpaced his contemporaries but even if we give other authors a hundred year head start, we still see that there have only been twenty-six films based on the work of Mark Twain. Even Charles Dickens has had fewer film adaptations if you leave out “A Christmas Carol”, which is practically a genre into itself. Poe and Lovecraft might have him beat but it’s hard to say because the majority of the adaptations of their work only bear a loose similarity to the original stories.
The range of quality that comes with Stephen King movies is also remarkable. Some of them are among the most highly acclaimed and beloved films of modern times and others are utter, irredeemable crap involving killer industrial laundry machines or worse, Mick Garris. At this point, it doesn’t matter. If Stephen King writes it, you can bet that somebody’s going to make an adaptation of it, whether it deserves one or not. Which brings us to “Dolan’s Cadillac”, a King short story that really has no business at all being made into a feature film.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with “Dolan’s Cadillac” as King wrote it. The story is a riff on Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” in which a grieving widower seeks highly elaborate revenge on the mob boss who killed his wife. It would make for a fine segment in an anthology movie or a TV show but the story is too skimpy and straightforward to build a feature film. Revenge pics are such well-worn territory that they live and die in the execution and, aside from the novel method of vengeance that takes up the film’s third act and the morbid curiosity of seeing Christian Slater turn in a performance that even Nicolas Cage might find a bit hammy, there’s not much of interest going on here.
The Caddie of the title is a jet black, bullet-proof pimpmobile belonging to Dolan (Slater), a sleezy mob boss in charge of a Las Vegas prostitution and human trafficking ring. One day a hapless schoolteacher out on a horseback ride witnesses Dolan executing some smugglers. She escapes and informs the FBI. She and her husband are placed under witness protection and sequestered away until the date of the trial. After months of seclusion, she sneaks out for a quick pregnancy test run and is prompted blowed up real good by a car bomb.
Now witness-less, Dolan goes free and Robinson, the husband, is left to stew with his grief and bitterness. Angry at the failings of the justice system, Robinson decides to go full Paul Kersey and buys the biggest hand cannon he can find so that he can exercise his 2nd Amendment rights upside Dolan’s head. After a few colossal episodes of failure, Robinson realizes that he’s not cut out for the Alpha male style of revenge, so he concocts a Plan B that simply requires him to get a summer job on a road crew, learn to operate heavy equipment and then to sneak off with the equipment long enough to set up a trap worthy of Wile E Coyote. Foolproof.
The film doesn’t really come alive until the third act. It’s hard to sympathize with Robinson because we aren’t given much reason to care about the wife before she dies and also because Wes Bentley is just not a very sympathetic guy. He fares better as a revenge-obsessed sociopath but by then we’re not interested in him and his revenge so much as his wacky scheme. Christian Slater also seems miscast at first but as his scenery-chewing performance gets bigger and more bizarre, reaching critical mass around the time he lets loose with a lengthy list of randomly strung together racial epithets, it becomes apparent that he’s diving head first into weird actor territory, a choice that actually suits him well. I would welcome a future where Christian Slater takes up the mantle of Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken and becomes the guy who is cast in movies just to show up and be strange.
“Dolan’s Cadillac” is a minor Stephen King story and the film adaptation is an even more minor Stephen King movie. The first hour is mostly boring and when things finally do start happening it’s hard to summon up much enthusiasm. There is some camp value to the performances of the two leads but the movie is too restrained and plodding to be appreciated as pure cheese. Maybe the best thing about “Dolan’s Cadillac” is that with that story out of the way, the ongoing crusade to film everything Stephen King has ever written will eventually result in a four part “Survivor Type” miniseries or a more faithful reboot of “The Lawnmower Man”. Are you listening, Frank Darabont?