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Arguably the Trope Maker / Ur Example of the car chase movie, or in any case the Trope Codifier.

In a post-Woodstock '70s US, Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a car delivery man with a mysterious past, now working for Argo's Car Delivery Service in Denver, Colorado. The film opens on Sunday, 10:02 am, with him driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger into a roadblock with the police in hot pursuit; just before he hits it, however, the film flashes back to two days earlier. Kowalski has been assigned to deliver the Challenger to San Francisco; he makes a bet with his dealer Jake (Lee Weaver) that he can get there in just fifteen hours. Setting off, Kowalski ends up running afoul of the police when he runs a motorcycle cop off the road. A blind African-American DJ at KOW known as Super Soul (Cleavon Little) listens to the police radio frequency and encourages Kowalski to evade the police. By doing so, he is turned into an overnight folk hero; revered by the counterculture scene across the west.

Along his journey, Kowalski encounters a man who collects snakes, a faith-healer named J-Hovah, a pair of gay carjackers, and a nude woman on a motorcycle. We eventually learn Kowalski's (whose first name is never revealed) past; he is a Vietnam veteran who later became a cop, but quit when his partner molested a woman, then became a car and motorcycle racer until two near-fatal accidents forced him to retire, and then became the "adrenaline junkie" he is today. Vera, the only woman he ever loved, died in a surfing accident.

Does Kowalski evade the police and make it through the roadblock? Does he make it to San Francisco? We won't spoil that...

Was remade in 1997 as a Made for TV Movie starring Viggo Mortensen, Jason Priestley and Keith David. Many of the characters are heavily changed; in the remake, Kowalski (who now has a first name, Jimmy) is a Gulf War vet trying to get to his pregnant wife in Idaho, while the DJ is now a right-wing shock jock named "The Voice" who views Kowalski's race home against the police as a battle against government oppression. It was not particularly well-received by fans of the original or by critics.

Death Proof, the second segment of Grindhouse by Quentin Tarantino, specifically the ending car chase, is an ode to this film from beginning to end.

Another homage is the music video for Audioslave's "Show Me How to Live". See it here. Note that it does spoil the end of the film.

See also Easy Rider and Two Lane Blacktop, two other counter-culture road films from the same era.

Tropes used in Vanishing Point include:

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