“Getaway” could have been an excellent two-minute film. As the action movie rattles toward its conclusion, there is one car chase filmed so expertly — the viewpoint from the front bumper of the trailing car — that it evokes “Bullitt”-level revelations about how a high-speed pursuit should be shot.
How is it possible that such a spectacle got shoehorned into a movie with no other redeeming qualities? The remaining 80-odd minutes seem to be a mere excuse to showcase one lonely instance of impressive directing.
The story, such as it is, follows Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke). The onetime racecar driver comes home to his Bulgarian apartment to find the Christmas tree toppled and a pool of blood on the floor. Before he can wonder what happened, he receives a call from a vaguely Eastern European-sounding fellow who demands that Brent steal a particular car and complete a few strange tasks, or he’ll never see his wife again.
Off Brent goes, hopping into a silver Shelby Super Snake (basically a souped-up Mustang) and periodically answering calls from the madman, then following such orders as: Drive into a park, smash through an outdoor holiday market and skid across an ice skating rink. Brent checks off his to-do list, all the while evading police who are understandably concerned with apprehending the maniac who has been off- roading all over Sofia.
At some point a girl (Selena Gomez) jumps into the car, claiming the stolen ride is hers. The evil puppetmaster, who has cameras trained on driver and passenger, insists Brent drag her along on his escapades. She’s not happy, and most of the dialogue consists of her repeating “I hate you” and “You’re a terrible driver.” But wouldn’t you know, she quickly transforms into a caring accomplice who has a few high-tech tricks up her sleeve.
As the story hightails it into outlandishness, so do the chase scenes. Brent manages to take out what seems like every police car in Bulgaria. The siren-topped automobiles collide, log roll or flip over and, at one point, two cop cars snap up onto their rear bumpers and appear to high-five. But it’s nothing to celebrate.
As a whole, the action sequences either look fake or are intercut with so many other images that any excitement dissolves. The shot list might look something like this: police cars closing in on Brent’s car; Brent’s tattooed hand shifting gears; close-up of the dashboard; tight shot of the toothpick clenched in Brent’s teeth. It becomes impossible to comprehend the full scope of danger. And besides, when did Brent have time to find a toothpick?
The scenes of dialogue are edited in the same distracting way. Rather than hold a wide shot to capture both Brent and the girl sitting side-by-side, the camera too often flips back and forth, inciting a tiresome visual whiplash. Meanwhile, the music sounds like it was snatched from an action parody. If only the movie didn’t take itself so seriously, maybe that’s what it could be.
Instead, we’re stuck with a couple of gloomy characters doing battle with a villain whose face — “Inspector Gadget” style — almost never makes it onscreen. (He is played by the voice, mouth and stubble of Jon Voight.) By the time the big reveal comes, airing the evildoer’s preposterous motives, a viewer might have forgotten his intentions were even still under wraps. The whole movie becomes such a pileup of detritus, whether it’s cop cars or plot points, that even something as important as rationale becomes an afterthought.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains language, a rude gesture, countless car crashes, action and mostly bloodless violence. 90 minutes.