Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Delroy Lindo, Giovanni Ribisi
Directed by Dominic Sena
Writing Credits: Scott Michael Rosenberg
Buena Vista *118 minutes
As ephemeral a movie as its title suggests, GONE IN 60 SECONDS is exactly how long the endorphin thrills of this car-stealing flick last once outside the theatre. Watching the film is exciting, heart-pounding fun -- its candy-colored car chases and white-knuckle drama quickly satisfy the cravings for a summer action movie. Upon retrospection, however, its in-the-moment pleasures fade away like yesterday's sunset, revealing the lack of substance at the film's core.
But I have two questions:
WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING IN THIS MOVIE? WHAT THE HECK WERE THEY THINKING?
Either Jerry Bruckheimer is a really nice guy, or he pays phenomenally well, for this piece of summer action fluff boasts two Oscar winners (Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie), one Oscar nominee (Robert Duvall), one actor who has more than once deserved a nomination (Delroy Lindo), one acclaimed young actor (Giovanni Ribisi), two up-and-coming British actors from opposite ends of the dramatic spectrum (Christopher Eccleston and Vinnie Jones), and a crop of hip youngsters.
The plot is the standard Bruckheimer formula: reformed criminal, these days invariably portrayed by Nicolas Cage, must, against his will, return to his life of crime for one final round in an effort to achieve a Greater Good against a scenery-chewing villain, invariably portrayed by an Otherwise Respected Actor, in the process gaining the respect of a genial, but dedicated law enforcement officer. This time, Cage is "Memphis" Raines, a reformed car thief, now a cuddly service station owner who gets his thrills teaching kids how to drive go-carts. His younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) has entered the trade, but now his life is in danger, having botched a job for the evil Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), a fearsome man with an Italian name and incongruous Manchester accent. Calitri is regarded by his car-theft peers as "the devil come down to Long Beach." Memphis tries to get his brother off the hook, but is told only that Calitri needs fifty rare cars stolen, sealed, and delivered to him within three days, or Kip will become scrap metal.
Reluctantly, Raines accepts the challenge, amassing his old buddies in the business, including, among others, Otto (Robert Duvall), a grizzled veteran; Sphinx (a hilarious Vinnie Jones of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS fame), a mute hulking thug; and the appropriately-named Sway (Angelina Jolie, looking skinny as a junkie and badly in need of a new tube of Blistex, with some of the worst dreadlocked hair extensions ever made). To this motley crew Kip adds a few of his slacker friends, for the sake of demographic diversity, including Scott Caan (son of James) and James Duval (no relation to Robert) of Gregg Araki's NOWHERE.
Nicolas Cage, with his basset-hound face and an acting style only slightly less mannered and insane than his forgotten generation-mate Crispin Glover, is an acquired taste, one I have never really acquired. Never quite credible as an action hero, he seems torn between the desire to be a Serious Actor and the fun of being Mr. Testosterone in the post-Stallone era. He does add a kind of winking dry wit to an otherwise silly role, however, and a strange little ritual involving that silly piece of music you've heard in a million television commercials before a round of car thefts is silly and fun, if a tad bizarre. Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie, despite her prominence in the trailer, appears for only about fifteen minutes, and has little to do but make double-entendres about motor vehicle parts. Giovanni Ribisi, who received such acclaim as the medic in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, here has red-rimmed eyes and spends two hours whining. Frankly, I wanted Calitri to kill him just to shut him up.
In a Bruckheimer flick, a group like this requires a witty-but-honest cop. Here, instead of John Cusack, we have Delroy Lindo (THE CIDER HOUSE RULES), a perhaps less ironic but certainly more threatening police presence. Playing a wisecracking Riggs to Lindo's Murtagh is Timothy Olyphant, who has returned to the right side of the law after snatching the crown from James Spader as King of the Scuzz flick in Doug Liman's GO.
This time around, Christopher Eccleston (JUDE, ELIZABETH) takes on the John Malkovich role as the Ruthless Villain, indicating that a four-month gig in Strindberg's MISS JULIE at the Haymarket doesn't pay very well. Eccleston, a hugely talented actor permanently ensconced in Celluloid Valhalla despite this picture, and who (to paraphrase one of my critical colleagues) would draw me into the theatre if all he did was tie his shoes, is Raymond Calitri, a badass mutha in blue shirt and suspenders who looks as if Jude Fawley had just walked onto the set following a career change from stonemasonry to cabinetmaking and car theft, a more becoming haircut, and one hell of a chip on his shoulder. Calitri is a villain in the James Bond flick mode, European, with a thick accent who sneers through his lupine British teeth but has an interesting hobby that's supposed to make him appear more refined, and by extension, more interesting. However, Eccleston is so much an archetype of the brooding, sensitive, poetic type that for me, most villainous thing about this gaunt, blazing-blue-eyed British baddie is his remark, "I try to learn your ways...your culture...but this baseball is so bleedin' boring!"
Now them's fightin' words.
The script is strictly from the John Rocker school of screenwriting, complete with villainous black youths, a wisecracking black man who cooks ribs, Asian women who can't learn to drive, dumb Cockney bad guys, tattooed gals in tank tops, and women characters over age 40 who are all but invisible. Films like this are not about story, but this one has something to offend just about everybody.
All this talk of character, performance and script is missing the point of GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS. Because this flick is about the cars. It's about Bentleys and Mercedes and vintage Shelby Mustangs and Hummers, each of them with a woman's name. It's about Lotuses and Ferraris and Cadillac SUVs. It's about car thieves who drive like Mario Andretti and hapless cops who drive like that poor Asian woman who couldn't get her license.
And it's about the car chase. The original film boasted the wreck of 93 cars. In this version, auto crash aficionados have to sit through an hour and a half of story before the car chase, which is of utterly lunatic proportions, defying all suspension of disbelief. The three kids sitting next to me who sneaked in after a showing of DINOSAUR ended loved this part, and I have to admit, there's a certain satisfaction to sitting in a theatre on a blisteringly hot summer day, watching rampant mayhem and destruction taking place safely on the silver screen. Director Dominic Sena, best known for KALIFORNIA, one of the most unpleasant movies ever made, is more than up to the task of a working a piece of summer dreck like this, combining the dark, brooding malevolent nights where evil thugs skulk out from the shadows like stray cats with bright southern California days shimmering with heat.
Summer is about guilty pleasures: carcinogenic artery-clogging grilled meat, mayonnaise-laden salads, ice cream, lazy days spent doing not hanging miniblinds, not mowing the lawn, not cleaning the house, doing absolutely nothing other than watching the grass dry out in the hot summer sun, and morally questionable movies in which car thieves are the heroes. In the realm of big, dumb, noisy, summer popcorn flicks, GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS is a reasonably entertaining diversion that even sports a few genuinely funny moments amidst the mayhem. Get up early and see it at the cheap show. But kids, please don't try this at home. And stay away from the theatre that you know is frequented by car thieves.
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