By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
One advantage of being a film critic, especially pertinent in the case of Courtney Solomon’s furiously turbulent “Getaway,” is that you get to see movies you’d never pay to see. All of which is my cute excuse for succumbing to the tastes and curiosity of the 15-year-old me. Truth be told, no one had to twist my stick-shifting arm to see this flimsy excuse for a feature length car chase.
Rarely stopping to take a breath, perhaps afraid that we’d catch up and see it for the mindless scraps of celluloid sensationalism it really is, “Getaway” literally and figuratively produces a junkyard full of half-baked and unpolished wreckage. Starring Ethan Hawke as washed up and humiliated former big-time racecar driver Brent Magra, the barrage of special effects and ridiculously exhilarating live footage features one of those absurd premises right out of your last nightmare.
Some mysterious power with a doubtlessly heinous agenda and an apparent desire to be a monstrous puppeteer of men has kidnapped Brent’s wife and then set the stage for him to wind up in a Shelby Super Snake Mustang. Fitted with cameras and all sorts of other control freak doodads—the better to watch and direct him, my dear—the cockpit serves as the action-drama’s proscenium.
The deal is, do what the sinister, foreign-accented voice says or the love of your life will be killed. And hey, this guy ain’t kidding.
This means, just for starters, ramming dozens of police cars, driving the indomitable pony car through every potentially tragic marketplace in Sofia, Bulgaria, and leaving no automotive acrobatic trick undone. And just so Brent has someone to commiserate with between power shifts, the marionette master plops some female companionship into the shotgun seat.
She is, per the credits, The Kid, portrayed by Selena Gomez…which ostensibly translates to poor little rich girl. You see, pop is a major European banker who, alas, has given her very little of his time. As consolation, though, he has given her the $94,195 flivver that Shelby American crafts from Ford’s GT500 Mustangs—the “only nice thing” dear old dad has ever done for her. Hmm, I’m thinking, why not parlay the guilt and hit him up for a new Ferrari and just find a father figure somewhere else?
In any case, now she has a big brother of sorts to menace and banter with as both try to figure out why the unseen dictator has constructed this merger of machine, troubled souls and confounding agenda. Oh, before I forget, it bears noting that, quite conveniently, the poor man’s Lolita is a techno geek whose computer savvy just might help them survive the maelstrom of confusion in which they’ve been tossed.
This is a loud backfire for the Bulgarian Tourist Board. An overall darkness, both in mood and via visuals shot through dimming filters, hardly makes the perennially rain-dampened streets of Sofia very appealing. However, as complementing landscape to the car’s claustrophobic interior, director Solomon, working from a screenplay by Sean Finegan and Greg Maxwell Parker, manages rousing scenarios of the video game kind.
All the establishment stuff young cynical minds deem to be the awful truth are trotted out for a thorough vanquishing. The vaunted lack of moral compass reminds of a scene from “The Wild One” (1953), when a sexy blonde bobbysoxer asks Marlon Brando’s Johnny what he’s rebelling against and he replies, “Whatta yuh got?”
Wait, though, before inferring from my subtext that this film has more than just a couple redeeming points. Fact is, the hyperkinesia oftentimes makes it barely watchable. However, if you’re studying for your doctorate in sociology, I think its nihilism might serve as a window into the generation it looks to accommodate.
Otherwise—again mind you, from a purely academic point of view—this cacophony is more interesting to dissect and attempt to fathom than it is entertaining. Going for this ride is exhausting and feels much longer than its mere 90 minutes, a time vs. speed phenomenon you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand.
You wish there were at least some cows to moo at. Seeking a respite from the monotony, you might want to visit the concession stand and overpay, just to simulate the break in the action associated with the fast food joints at toll road rest stops. Try the fudge.
All this said, you have to give Ethan Hawke credit. Strenuously emoting from behind the wheel, like a stellar Major League pitcher on a really lousy team he rarely allows the futility of his mission to stifle his professionalism. Miss Gomez, on the other hand, supplies a curious modicum of cherubic cute that does little to help the team.
So you sit there and peer at your empty popcorn bucket, the scant nostalgia stirred by “Getaway’s” automobilia having long given way to memories of family road trips and desperate entreaties of “Are we there yet?
“Getaway,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Courtney Solomon and stars Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez and John Voight. Running time: 90 minutes