What would summer be without a Jerry Bruckheimer movie at the local megaplex? Other than a conspicuous absence from theaters last summer, the Bruckheimer tentpole production machine has been churning out audience-pleasing favorites since he and his late partner Don Simpson got back into the blockbuster game in the mid-Nineties. Since the debut of "Bad Boys" in the summer of 1995, moviegoers have become familiar with the Bruckheimer formula of movie-making over the years-- ordinary men placed in extraordinary situations, John Woo-inspired gunplay, larger-than-life pyrotechnics, car chases galore, and of course, flashy women. One needs to look no further than "The Rock", "Con Air", "Armageddon", and "Enemy of the State" to see the Bruckheimer rulebook at play.
Like clockwork, the latest Bruckheimer actioner "Gone in 60 Seconds" has now arrived at a megaplex near you, with the promise of all the action and thrills you would expect of its cinematic pedigree. With three Oscar-winning actors on board, including Bruckheimer favorite Nicolas Cage (who appeared in "Con Air" and "The Rock"), and a promising plot about car theft that lends itself to great car chases, how could "Gone in 60 Seconds" fail? Unfortunately, "Gone in 60 Seconds" never manages to get out of first gear until very near the end, and by that point, it's too little, too late.
Taking a riff from the often-used crime-action paradigm of 'the last hatchet job', legendary car thief 'Memphis' Raines (Cage) is called out of a self-imposed retirement to steal fifty cars in a 24-hour time period for a moustache-twirling crime-lord named Ray (Christopher Eccleston of "eXistenZ"). Of course, Raines is not doing this for the good of his health-- the job was originally given to his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi of "Boiler Room"), who botched it up, and now Raines must make up for lost time, or else Ray puts a bullet into Kip.
With the clock ticking, Raines assembles a rag-tag team of both veteran and rookie 'boosters'. There's his old pal Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall of "Deep Impact"), who gave up the chop-shop in favor of more legitimate restoration work. There's also 'Sway' Wayland (Angelina Jolie of "Girl, Interrupted"), a comely mechanic who also gave up grand theft auto when Raines left the business. Atley Jackson (Will Patton of "Armageddon") is one of Raines' few long-time friends, while 'The Sphinx' (Vinnie Jones of "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels") is literally a man of few words.
Unfortunately, the fifty cars to be boosted include some rare makes and models, including a 1967 Shelby GT 350 Mustang, which Raines' nicknames 'Eleanor'-- apparently, Raines' has had a history with this 'lady', and previous attempts to steal such a car have always resulted in failure. And if that weren't enough, detectives Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo of "Romeo Must Die") and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant of "Go") of the city's auto theft division are sniffing around, hoping to make a career-defining bust out of Raines' illicit activities.
Despite the potential for terrific action sequences, including the obligatory car chases, "Gone in 60 Seconds" is a slow-moving and uninteresting action flick. The characters are nowhere near as interesting as those found in much better Bruckheimer productions, such as "Armageddon" (who could forget the characters of Steve Buscemi or Liv Tyler?) or "The Rock" (where Cage played a Volvo-driving geek scientist). For the first hour and a bit, the script is quite mechanical, as Raines gathers his old partners-in-crime together, they spout car-related technobabble to each other, and the dumbest detectives in the Bay area set up an inept sting operation. It is not until the film's final half hour that the action finally picks up with a 'big chase' that almost lives up to the film's namesake.
The original "Gone in 60 Seconds" was a 1974 exploitation flick that was written and directed by veteran stunt driver H.B. Halicki that made the rounds at the drive-ins. The story was essentially the same, with a veteran car thief mandated with delivering 48 cars, including a '73 Mach 1 Mustang nicknamed 'Eleanor'. Despite the film's obvious B-movie elements, lack of taste in clothing, and low-budget, "Gone in 60 Seconds" developed a cult following for some of the most intense car chases ever committed to film. The film's showcase car chase clocked in at almost three-quarters of an hour, which involved the totaling of 93 cars in the process.
In contrast, what is remarkable about the remake is the lack of action. Those moviegoers who salivate over the choreographed action set pieces and pyrotechnics that personify the Bruckheimer action film will walk away from "Gone in 60 Seconds" disappointed. For the majority of the running time, the direction by Dominic Sena ("Kalifornia") is perfunctory, without any of the visual flourishes that you've come to expect. And though the camerawork does improve in the film's final chase, conveying the energy and urgency of the situation, the car chase itself is nowhere near as exciting or stunning as those seen in the original film. Come to think of it, it doesn't even come close to the classic high-speed mayhem seen in "Bullitt", "To Live and Die in L.A.", "The Blues Brothers", "Ronin", or even Jackie Chan's "Thunderbolt".
The film's attempts at character development are also paltry, and a source of some unintentional humor since they come across as forced. There is not much to say about Raines, other than he's typical of Cage characters in this type of movie (including the traditional 'Nicolas Cage wig-out scene')-- he's a nice guy at heart put into an extraordinary situation. Jolie shows up occasionally to either pout for the camera, or to provide some backstory about the relationship between her character and Raines. Duvall is wasted as the movie's wise sage, and is given little to do for most of the pic, other than crossing names off a chalkboard. Lindo is adequate as one of Raines' nemeses, though the script makes me suspect as to how he can stay a detective so long with such lousy deductive reasoning. Jones, who made an impression with audiences last year as an imposing debt collector in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels", is probably the only interesting character of the whole bunch, probably because he isn't given the chance to utter any banal dialogue. Finally, Ribisi and Olyphant could have been put to better use by taking them out the back and having them shot.
While audiences certainly don't watch Bruckheimer movies for profound insight or intricately crafted characters, they do watch them for the rollercoaster-type thrills befitting of a summer movie. Unfortunately, other than a somewhat interesting car chase at the film close, "Gone in 60 Seconds" fails on almost every level. If you want to cut to the chase, rent the original 1974 film instead.