|Gone in 60 Seconds
USA, 2000. Rated PG-13. 118 minutes.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Giovanni Ribisi,
Delroy Lindo, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Will Patton, Chi McBride,
Christopher Eccleston, Timothy Olyphant, Vinnie Jones, Scott Caan, Trevor
Goddard, James Duval
|Review by Jeff Vorndam
eorge Lucas is the most famous producer-auteur, but Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, The Rock, Armageddon) is number two with a bullet. His films are enormously successful–no army of critics can pierce his armor. What then, is the point of this review? To tell you what you probably already know (ho-hum plot, whiz-bang editing, and lots of car crashes combine for a familiar summer spectacle)? Gone in 60 Seconds doesn't need the exposure that movie reviews bring. Its wall-to-wall advertising has already ensured that even folks as reclusive as J.D. Salinger and Bobby Fischer are sick of the hype. Bruckheimer films are a known quantity–the Wal-Mart of summer blockbusters. They're big, ubiquitous juggernauts that appeal to people who want something quick and easy, in this case entertainment.
It's a sentiment that has merit. After all, why should entertainment be work? Most people would agree that a film that is both thoughtful and entertaining is desirable, but if the filmmakers only strive for the latter, should it be held against them? I'm not even sure that a film can strive to be completely mindless. Gone in 60 Seconds does attempt to identify moral parameters and create characterizations, but they're hackneyed and uncompelling. The film's strength is its action sequences. Here, content is brushed aside in favor of sensation. It doesn't matter why Nicolas Cage is driving a 1967 Ford Mustang 160 mph down a Los Angeles waterduct. What matters is the sound of the engine roaring, the smoke slithering out from the tires, and the look of determination in Cage's eye. These moments pop up intermittently in the movie. For a film whose worth depends on its ability to thrill, Gone in 60 Seconds is only fitfully entertaining.
The story is a simple one that scoots us from one action scene to the next, despite having several parasitic subplots. Nicolas Cage is Memphis Raines, a retired car thief extraordinaire who now teaches children racecar driving. He gets a call one day that forces him back into the business. His kid brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) has gotten in over his head. Since Memphis retired and moved out of town six years ago, Kip has become an up-and-coming car thief. He has contracted with a local crime lord named Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) to steal fifty expensive cars. When Kip's crew bungles the job and the bosses' reputation is threatened, Calitri gets mad... very mad. He threatens to kill Kip unless Memphis can bring in all fifty cars in three days. It's a premise so basic that it has to work (and it has worked, in a bazillion other movies, Rounders for example. Even though we don't know Kip and he's probably a little scumbag (he steals cars, after all), we want to see if Memphis can pull off the unlikely task. Never mind that these cars actually belong to people–a potential scumbag's life is at stake!
Memphis has his work cut out for him. As if the task weren't gargantuan enough, he has to reassemble his old team and fend off the hostilities of a rival crime lord who's upset the contract didn't go to him. Memphis manages to scrap together a crew: his scraggly mentor Otto (Robert Duvall, probably not the first car mechanic named "Otto"), wisecracking Kenny (Chi McBride), taciturn Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), and supposedly sexy Sway (Angelina Jolie). Sway is reluctant to join because she and Memphis had a history before he walked out on the gang. (Cue Fight Club: I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise.) Without explaining her change of mind, Sway eventually joins the group. Memphis' merry band of thieves is bolstered by Kip's crew, a collection of brash punks and computer geeks. The mix between the old school and the new occasionally causes friction.
The story suffers by giving Memphis too many adversaries. He's pulled in so many directions at once that the story spins out when it should be racing forward. The emotional center of the film is Memphis' relationship with his brother. Kip resents Memphis' decision to leave six years ago, and Memphis takes his time explaining to Kip why he left. Memphis also has issues with Sway for many of the same reasons. There's also trouble outside Memphis' crew in the form of Calitri. He's presented as straightforwardly evil, though writer Scott Rosenberg gives him a penchant for carpentry for no apparent reason. The aforementioned rival gang lord is also on Memphis' case for spurning him to deal with Calitri. To top it all off, the antagonists given the most screen time are a police detective duo, Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant). Castlebeck is Memphis' long-time nemesis and worthy foe, the type who conjures up respect for his adversary after numerous failures to apprehend him. All of these conflicts with Memphis are eventually resolved, two of them are even taken care of with a single action that can be seen as tidy or contrived, depending on your disposition.
The Big Picture
Gone in 60 Seconds runs out of gas just before its climax, which is a shame. An extended chase scene is the highlight of the film. It's difficult to get a handle on the chase because it's not as streamlined as the more harrowing ones in Ronin and Bullitt; however, it serves its purpose in cutting a swath of fiery destruction and leaving crumpled police cars in its wake. Once the chase is over, though, we end up in the most cliched of action-movie locations, the abandoned warehouse. The resolution is one of those "only in the movies" moments that is predictably warm and fuzzy.
The large cast, which includes three Oscar-winners, is largely wasted. Angelina Jolie, in particular, adds nothing to the film and her third-billing is puzzling. At the center, Nicolas Cage tones down the shtick and lets the other actors ham it up for a change. The downside is that Memphis' character is unmemorable and hazy. The main villain, Christopher Eccleston, doesn't seem to know what to do in a big-budget action film. His glowering, which worked so well in Elizabeth, is too subtle in this film, where he has to compete with lines like, "this snake is crawling up my ass!" Vinnie Jones and Delroy Lindo come off the best, somehow communicating more than their rote characterizations call for.
Director Dominic Sena's last film was Kalifornia, but there's no evidence of that work in this film, further supporting the notion that Bruckheimer holds the reins here. The pacing is competent though. One thing I can say about Gone in 60 Seconds is that I wasn't bored, and wrapping everything up in under two hours deserves a medal these days.
Now that you'e reached the end of the review, I know you all are waiting with bated breath to see if I make some clever joke about the title of the film and its ephemeral quality. My only lasting impression is of the staggering amount of time and preparation that must have gone into constructing the numerous stunts and special effects. Gone in 60 Seconds tries hard to please, but then, so do commercials, and those are usually gone in half the time.
© June 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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