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'Gone in 60 Seconds': Lost in the Exhaust

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 9, 2000


    'Gone in 60 Seconds' "Loveable" rogues star in "Gone in 60 Seconds." (Touchstone)
Yeah, I'll tell you what's gone in 60 seconds, all right: my attention.

The movie under that awkward title – "Gone in 60 Seconds" – is someone's bad idea of a Damon Runyon "colorful crook" caper on growth hormones and methamphetamine. It's edited to the speed of a collision, and it moves with such kinetic frenzy that it ultimately exiles its cast. It's a movie that could honestly be said to star cars, not actors.

Our hero would be a gunmetal-gray '67 Shelby Mustang GT capable of accelerating to about 190 mph in six seconds flat when driven by a freak trying to avoid custody. This baby can also sail through the air at distances that would make both of the Knievels, pere et fils, glum with jealousy.

Second billing goes to a police BMW. Where is this movie set – Munich or Nuremberg? No, L.A., and so why would the cops be steaming around in a Bimmer? Well, they are, I suppose, on the same principle that put a beautiful Eurotrash model with sullen eyes, pouty lips and yards and yards of legs in the center of every second thriller made in 1996. The Bimmer fights a game fight, contributing bumpers and fenders and body trim to the hunt, but the movie's heart is always with the fox and never the hounds.

Which leads to another baffling question. Who would hire – at considerable expense – extremely vivid shticksters like Nicolas Cage, Angelina ("Those lips, those ey – oh, hell, those lips!") Jolie, Robert Duvall, Giovanni Ribisi, Christopher Eccleston and Delroy Lindo, and then require them to take second billing to the jalopies?

The answer – and this is without lifelines, mind you – is Jerry Bruckheimer, the surviving member of the Don Simpson-Jerry Bruckheimer production duo, which consecrated such adrenaline injections to the brain stem as "Top Gun," "Flashdance" and "Days of Thunder."

Absent Simpson (death by too much too fast), Bruckheimer has unleashed both "The Rock" and "Armageddon" upon an unsuspecting world. He seems to cling to the old BS aesthetic credo: movie as drum solo. That's all it is, really – percussion, animated by zap-fast editing and driven forward by rockin' music. It's eye candy for the brain-dead, pure impulses of visual electricity meant merely to stimulate a tissue reaction somewhere in a teenage body.

The plot – what little can be discerned amid wrecks, chases, and smart-guy banter – follows as old-pro and now-retired car thief Randall "Memphis" Raines (Cage, who's surprisingly mild throughout) is rudely leveraged into stealing 50 high-performance or rare collector cars from the greater L.A. basin in a single night, or else his brother (Ribisi – scurvy, greasy, adenoidal, annoying) will be snuffed by a nasty Brit thug (Eccleston) who has unaccountably taken over the Long Beach waterfront.

That's it. The rest is high-tech car thievery (computers, little gizmos that read garage door codes, jump-starters that look like guns) and low-tech chases and crashes. Raines reacquires his old gang, which includes various colorful characters like down-home Duvall, the black comedian Chi McBride and, most puzzlingly, Jolie. As in: Huh?

Jolie, off an Oscar win and an extraordinary buzz over her own sexual peculiarities, is certainly one of the industry's hottest actresses. She brings heat; she is heat. All she does in this movie is stand around, cooling down, modeling those fleshy, pulsating muscle-tubes that nest so provocatively around her teeth.

A drunken Rastafarian with a bleach bottle and no conscience appears to have been her hairdresser; clothes are strictly by thrift shop whimsy. She has one scene, late, that requires her to exert about 2 percent of her considerable talent, but by and large she's nothing but expensive window dressing. The whole thing feels like a complete waste of somebody's $2 million.

"Gone in 60 Seconds," which is based on a reputed cult classic, is like the typical Bruckheimer product in that it's certainly handsome and it has undeniable energy and, at least in the early going, some wit. The various crooks, new and old, banter back and forth, and the cops--Lindo, assisted by Timothy Olyphant, a young Bill Paxton type – try to figure out what's happening, while a gang of opposing car thieves is also in on the chase.

But at about the halfway point, the movie simply leaves the known universe and cranks into hyperdrive. Remember the famous effect in "Star Wars" where they finally got the whatchamacallit going, and the stars suddenly went to blur? Well, that's what this movie is like: It's all blur.

In another way, the movie appears unstuck in time. Car chases were hot exactly when the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" was made back in '74, and it was possibly the capstone to that genre, which memorably featured "Bullitt" (another Shelby Mustang GT, if memory serves, driven by a Steve McQueen who is so much cooler than anyone anywhere associated with this film) and "The French Connection" and "The Seven-Ups" and even "McQ," starring that portly old gent Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne.

This movie shows us nothing they haven't already shown us better.

GONE IN 60 SECONDS (119 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for sexual innuendo, arty photography, brain-mulching music and intense gasoline fumes.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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