Gone In 60 Seconds
Screenplay : Scott Rosenberg (based on a 1974 by H.B. Halicki)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Nicolas Cage (Randall "Memphis" Raines), Angelina Jolie (Sara "Sway" Wayland), Giovanni Ribisi (Kip Raines), Robert Duvall (Otto Halliwell), Delroy Lindo (Detective Roland Castlebeck), Will Patton (Atley Jackson), Chi McBride (Donny Astricky), Christopher Eccleston (Raymond)
"Gone in 60 Seconds," this summer's Jerry Bruckheimer-produced would-be blockbuster, is actually a remake of a 1974 cult car-crash flick written, produced, directed by, and starring a Hollywood stuntman named H.B. Halicki.
The original film, which is about a group of professional car thieves attempting to steal 50 cars for an Argentinean client, climaxes in a 40-minute chase sequence in which more than 90 cars are totaled. Cult movie enthusiasts talk about this sequence with excited reverence, not so much because of its cinematic effectiveness, but because of the sheer audacity of anyone attempting to sustain a chase sequence for 40 minutes.
Needless to say, the big-budget studio remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds," courtesy of the same man who produced "Armageddon" (1998), attempts no such boldness. In fact, this new version of "Gone in 60 Seconds" is a sleek, polished production of filmmaking-by-committee, where nothing is left to chance: big stars, big production values, snazzy cinematography, a predictable climax. Even the need to steal cars is given a moral imperative in order to excuse it.
The moral imperative is this: Randall "Memphis" Raines (Nicolas Cage), a legendary Los Angeles car thief who has been in self-induced retirement for six years, must steal 50 specific cars (ranging from Ferraris to SUVs) in 72 hours or else his younger brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), will be killed. Memphis got out of the life at his mother's request (how sweet is that?) so that Kip would not follow in his criminal footsteps. But, it turned out that Kip followed anyway. At the beginning of the film, Kip botches the job of stealing 50 cars for a brutal crime lord named Raymond (Christopher Eccleston), and he must finish the job by a deadline in three days or else he will be killed.
So, Memphis comes out retirement and reteams with his old associates, all of whom are also retired. These include Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall), who now runs a car restoration business, and Memphis' old flame, Sara "Sway" Wayland (Angelina Jolie, who, despite second billing, is barely in the movie), who works two jobs as a mechanic and a bartender because, as she puts it, it requires a lot more work to make money honestly. And, the whole time they are being tracked by a dogged police investigator (Delroy Lindo) who knows that Memphis didn't come back to Los Angeles just to see his family.
Thus, the screenplay by Scott Rosenberg (who wrote the Bruckheimer-produced "Con Air" in 1997, which also starred Cage), sets up a moral dilemma for Memphis to deal with (getting back into "the life" in order to save his brother's life, which is ironic because he got out of the life for the exact same reason) and a tough deadline to beat.
But, even with all this urgency, the movie never feels particularly urgent. Director Dominic Sena, whose only other film was the excellent serial killer drama "Kalifornia" (1993), has the kind of hotshot visual flair that other Bruckheimer directors like Michael Bay ("The Rock") and Simon West ("Con Air") have, but there's nothing particularly distinguished in his work here. The car chase sequences are well-handled and even a bit inventive at times, but they are never truly outstanding. Lots of cars are crashed, lots of rubber is burned, but it all feels perfunctory, never inspired.
None of the actors, who include three Oscar winners (Cage, Jolie, and Duvall), have much to do in their roles beyond filling their shoes. Memphis and Kip are the most fully realized characters, and even they don't register much beyond estranged-but-loving big brother and little brother. The film does set up an interesting and sometimes humorous comparison between Memphis and his "old school" team of car thieves and Kip and his young, unruly team of thieves. Each group has somethingt to teach the other: The older thieves teach the younger ones restraint, while the younger ones teach the older ones the benefits of computer technology.
But, perhaps the biggest disappointment in "Gone in 60 Seconds" is the same problem that has plagued recent James Bond films, namely the use of digital effects. One of the pure, popcorn joys of car crash flicks, from the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" to "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977) to "The Dukes of Hazzard" TV show, is the knowledge that all the stunts are real. In other words, watching a car jump a line of other cars is given that extra edge because you know that some stuntperson actually climbed into a car and performed that gravity-defying feat of lunacy.
However, in the new world of digital effects, the "stunts" are bigger and bolder, but they're also fake. The point here is not to encourage stuntpeople to put their lives in unnecessary danger (as one director put it after tragic death of actor Vic Morrow and two children during a stunt on the set of "The Twilight Zone: The Movie" in 1982, "No movie is worth dying for"). Rather, the point is that effects are getting bigger, but they're less effective because it becomes so obvious that no one in reality could pull off such a movie. (It is true, most automotive stunts are performed with specially outfitted cars and hidden ramps, but it still does not negate the point that someone actually performed it.)
For instance, in order to make his last escape from the police, Memphis must make an insane jump over a backlog traffic jam by running a Shelby GT 350 Mustang (code-named "Eleanor," it is the most precious car in the film) up the lowered ramp of a tow-truck. Everything is real, right up to the moment that he makes the jump, then Sena cuts to a ridiculous overhead composite shot of the Mustang flying over the cars, and the digital fakery of it lets all the air out of the sails. In theory, it should be an exhilarating sequence--the big climax--but on screen, like so much of the rest of the movie, it falls flat.
©2000 James Kendrick