On October 4, 2009, Nathan "Nate" Riley and Samantha "Sam" Green, best friends since kindergarten, are on their way to Camelback Mountain in Phoenix to finish filming their audition tape for an Amazing Race-type reality show. With Sam's younger brother Caleb behind the camera, the trio is driving to their destination when Nate spots a gray Honda on the highway that just flashed on an Amber Alert sign. Sam calls the police, who say it could take 15 minutes for them to respond because of a glut of calls, so they decide to follow the vehicle.
While Nate figures the alert is probably just a custody dispute and suggests they let the police handle the case, Sam insists on pursuing the Honda. When it stops at a gas station and they see the driver go inside, she manages to peek inside the car and sees a little girl asleep in the back seat, making her all the more determined to continue the pursuit. The longer they give chase, the closer they get to rescuing the child, but the closer they also get to incurring the wrath of the sadistic criminal holding her hostage.
Amber Alert's premise is immediately engaging, even if the film itself struggles to maintain the tense thrills inherent in the concept. Part of the problem lies in the dearth of plot, as the twist-less storyline threatens to become a one-trick pony, devolving for stretches into shouting matches between Nate and Sam as they decide whether to continue their pursuit or break it off. The banter becomes repetitive, making the underdeveloped, uninteresting characters all the more grating. To make matters worse, their questionable decision-making proves frustrating to the very end.
Still, the realism of the scenario hits home more than the typical found footage ghost or monster story, even though the logistics of having the protagonists so far away from the villain for the majority of the movie minimize any chance for scares. There's also an admirable Hitchcockian element that for stretches feels like Rear Window at 60 miles per hour. The acting, which is key for this type of film, is solid enough to maintain the naturalness, albeit the bickering, circular nature of the dialogue makes it all feel a bit too realistic at times. One glaring lack of realism, however, is the absence of police support -- an understandably necessary plot device that nonetheless feels false (at least, I hope it is) and adds (intentionally?) to the sense of helplessness viewers feel throughout the film.
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