A really huge industrial smokestack belches really hot flames. A really fast car outspeeds a really noisy helicopter. A really stacked babe licks her really plump lips. A really ornery guy describes his return to a life of crime as ”a big c— up the a– of this really impressive career I’ve had.” Nicolas Cage glowers with really mad eyes. Stuff like this happens all the time in Jerry Bruckheimer’s neighborhood. In fact, stuff like this goes down so often that only a tourist, lost on a street far from Nora Ephron Avenue or Ron Bass Road, would be shocked — or even less than amused — by all the big things, hard things, swinging things, and spurting things to which attention must regularly, mindlessly be paid each summer in the vicinity of Bruckheimer Boulevard.
It’s locals, though, who are going to feel rear-ended by Gone in 60 Seconds. It’s the popcorn-inhaling, soda-guzzling action lovers, savoring Cage’s every change of scowl and cheering every Jerry-rigged chase sequence as a majestic display of ballsy American ingenuity, who are going to feel the speed bumps in this car-crazy race against storytelling meaninglessness. Because there’s no contest: Slack meaninglessness outpaces any excitement. If one is a true Bruckheimeranian, one may appreciate profound inanity such as this conversation between Helen Raines (Grace Zabriskie), a hard-bitten Madonna of a weathered mom, and Randall ”Memphis” Raines (Cage), her medium-bitten reformed car thief of a son, discussing a heist mess made by his soft-bitten, unreformed car thief of a younger brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi):
Helen: ”How deep in is he?”
Helen: ”Can you get him out?”
Memphis: ”It means doin’ things I told you I’d never do.”
Helen: ”Do ‘em.”
Yet even hardcore escapists are bound to be defeated by the generic tough-guy twaddle and the impersonal race/crash/explode action sequences: Eventually, the senses jam and a mental lube job is in order.
After which, when some grimy character growls a cheap laugh line like ”Who gives a s— about grand theft auto, really?” one is liable to roar, ”Good question, Crankshaft!” and bolt for a high-quality, fine-art product like M:I-2.
Of course, that the producer who built the The Rock (big and half dumb), Con Air (huge and moronic), and Armageddon (colossal and brain-dead) should want to make Gone in 60 Seconds is in itself a smooth maneuver: This glorified rare-car slide show is a souped-up rebuilding of H.B. Halicki’s 1974 original of the same name, a cult oddity about ”boosters” who have to steal 50 cars. And the landscape of shiny wheels, slick moves, shady pursuits, and a ticking countdown to destruction is primo Bruckheimer territory.
But here’s how the movie’s hypocritical 21st-century overlay of family values defeats what is essentially an amoral display of criminal prowess and advanced stunt driving: The 50 specimens (each fetishistically given a woman’s name) can’t just be ziplessly plucked for the thrill of it, oh no. They’ve now got to be plucked for a higher moral reason. Memphis is able to recruit his reformed friends — all of whom have gone exceedingly straight since swearing off the thrill of illegal automotive pursuit, one of whom, in bleached dreadlocks and in full wild-thing, four-on-the-floor mode is played by Angelina Jolie — because he’s facing Armageddon: Kip will be killed if Memphis flunks his assignment.
Why will Kip be killed? Because Kip — a Gen-X screw-up — already flunked the 50-cars-by-dawn assignment Memphis has since agreed to fulfill. And who gave Kip such vicious marching orders? ”The Carpenter” (intense British thespian Christopher Eccleston, partaking of the Hollywood dream), a cold maniac so labeled because of his avocational love of cabinet making. And — pax, Jesus — how terrible is the Carpenter? ”He’s bad. Real bad. Like stains on a mattress.”
The argument that looking for coherence in a Jerry Bruckheimer opus is a sign of critical dementia does not go unappreciated here. Delroy Lindo, Robert Duvall, Will Patton, Chi McBride — they all show up for work; isn’t that enough? Nope. In revving up auto eroticism for a young generation, the producer and his by-the-numbers director, Dominic Sena (Nike ads, Kalifornia) ought to be able to make grand theft auto at least look sharp, cool, hip, dangerous — anything but humdrum. They don’t. Chases are big, but — with one exception, which stands out for its determination to bring in da noise — joyless. ”This guy can drive!” a cop admiringly says of Memphis, while Cage steers madly like his really fat paycheck depends on it. Drive? Drive? This gentleman can’t even start his engine. D