Heading south with a suitcase full of cash, freelance crook Doc McCoy (Alec Baldwin) and his wife and partner, Carol (Kim Basinger), end up hiding out, for a few yucky moments, in a dumpster. The two are hoisted into a garbage truck, and the truck then drives off and deposits its contents on a sprawling desert dump, with Doc and Carol sliding out through a pile of squishy debris.
Amid the generic chain of robberies, chases, and showdowns that make up the bulk of The Getaway (Universal, R), this image of two big-league Hollywood stars getting tossed out with the trash has a perverse comic charm. Certainly, it was the one memorable moment in the original, 1972 version of The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Now, though, coming after two additional decades of high-powered hack moviemaking, the joke seems emblematic in a different way. Even when they aren't actually up to their chests in garbage, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger spend most of The Getaway wading through a junk heap of road-thriller cliches.
What, exactly, possessed these two to want to star in a virtual scene-for- scene remake of Sam Peckinpah's middling bank-heist thriller? Based on a novel by Jim Thompson, the arid master of hardboiled minimalism, the original Getaway was marketed as a sexy action blockbuster, with added heat provided by the offscreen relationship of McQueen and MacGraw. The cynical hit machinery worked -- but still! Proficient yet anonymous, bereft of warmth, humor, or a trace of the outlaw romantic zing that has marked such lovers-on-the-lam classics as Bonnie and Clyde and Something Wild, The Getaway was a joyride without the joy. What with McQueen's grumpy stoicism and MacGraw's mannequin blahness, the real-life lovers seemed like strangers on screen.
Ditto for Baldwin and Basinger (who got hitched last year). Once again, Doc, the criminal ace, is sprung from jail by Jack Benyon (James Woods), a wormy Mr. Big who hires him to organize and execute a safecracking. Staged with nimble crosscutting by director Roger Donaldson, the robbery is the film's suspenseful highlight, capped by a sky-high explosion guaranteed to thrill the most jaded Lethal Weapon junkies. When the operation turns out to be a double cross, Doc and Carol escape with the loot. For Doc, though, the real double cross is the fact that Carol had to sleep with Benyon to win his freedom. The couple's moony-eyed reunion quickly erupts into a hot and sassy road feud.
At least, that's the idea. Married actors would seem to be natural romantic costars, but these pairings can also result in a certain passive smugness, an attitude of we-can-be-hot-without-even-trying. In The Getaway, Baldwin shows the physical confidence of a born star (he's swift and funny pursuing a thief through an Amtrak train), but he also keeps striking ''dangerous'' male-model poses. This isn't acting; it's acting too cool for the room. And Basinger sends out her usual ripples of weary dismay. Beautiful as she is, Kim Basinger has never brought much to the party. She's a blank, a movie star manque.
Photographed in vivid, desert-clear pastels, The Getaway mimics Peckinpah's film right down to the ironic placement of a kitty cat in a psychotic killer's hands, the precise angles at which people in a room point guns at one another. Yet why all this meticulous reverence for a movie that was always lifeless at its core? In The Getaway, the performers have so little to work with that even the normally juicy James Woods seems stranded, like a bad actor doing his best to glower meanly on a daytime soap. The movie is a true throwaway: By the end, it seems to have disposed of itself. C