Let me get this straight… Warner Bros. gets to make a movie called Getaway, about an aging criminal and a nubile young star in what amounts to a single, long extended chase sequence, but The Weinstein Company had to rename The Butler? Every time I talk about seeing this movie, the person I’m talking to immediately assumes I went to a revival screening of Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 thriller The Getaway, with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and boy howdy, I wish I had.
Getaway is one of those action thrillers in which the hero needs to perform a series of tasks so ridiculous implausible that the only to motivate them to do it is to kidnap their wife/child/whole family. In this case, Ethan Hawke plays ex-racecar driver named Brent Magna, who needs to steal a Shelby Mustang Super Snake loaded with surveillance equipment and follow the orders of a mysterious kidnapper played by [surprise movie star cameo here], who has a series of illegal, dangerous stunts for Magna to pull.
Along the way he picks up a teenaged hacker/muscle car enthusiast named played by Selena Gomez because well, obviously.
It’s a contrived set-up, and that would be all well and good if Getaway set up something spectacular – like non-stop car chases, car crashes and amazing stunts – but while that does seem to have been the whole point of this genre exercise (because high drama, social consciousness and metatextual reevaluations of its formulaic content are not in the cards), we can’t actually “see” any of it.
Director Courtney Solomon, he of the campy cult classic Dungeons & Dragons, chops his footage into a potpourri of explosions, squealing tires and disconcerted Hawke eyes, presenting constantly the idea that what we are seeing is cool, but rarely giving us the goods. Some of the car crashes are incredible, but what actually made them crash is left all too often to our imaginations. It looks for all the world like someone figured out all the complex physics and got actual cars to do pretty amazing things, but it also looks like the filmmakers did everything in their power to cut around it. My kingdom for a shot that lasts more than three seconds.
With the car chases out of the picture – often literally – Getaway is left with Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez and [surprise movie star cameo here] to maintain our interest. Ethan Hawke has grown into a plausible action hero, tough but well worn, and yes, he earns his paycheck, but Selena Gomez seems to have trouble selling simple lines of dialogue like “I have an idea.” When she actually starts squeaking out Wikipedia-researched leet speak I got vivid mental flashes of a sixth grader reading Shakespeare out loud for the very first time.
There’s a moment in Getaway’s silly storyline, after it cribs liberally from Speed and Die Hard with a Vengeance, in which the camera miraculously stays still for what feels like a solid minute. Ethan Hawke is on the bad guy’s tail, accelerating obscenely down a very busy street, desperate to save a kidnapped girl. The camera is mounted on the hood of his car, pointed forward this whole time as Hawke struggles to keep up with the kidnapper, and while the shot evokes obvious comparisons to San Francisco Rush without any of the ridiculous ramps (what were they all doing there, Atari?), at least this one thrill finally achieves “visceral” status in an otherwise busted car chase movie.
Like many thrillers these days, Getaway feels like the kind of movie that more restrained filmmakers would have knocked out of the park back in the 1970s or 1980s, when bulky 35mm cameras made filming every angle of this sort of stunt bonanza nearly impossible and, by extension, made the stunts actually easy to see, impressive to watch, and fun for all audiences. But Getaway isn’t Vanishing Point… it’s Vanishing Pointless.
Get away, Getaway, and don’t come back.