The car porn chiller “Getaway” is a movie of wonder. I wondered about the way the film was actually made, the shooting sequence, the extravagant car flips and pile-ups, the monotone acting. Did Ethan Hawke actually shoot all of the gear-shifting shots? Or was that Ethan Hawke’s hand double? Did they shoot one gear shift and re-use that footage? Or is there a special gear shift for each scene so that each one has a different feel? And were Ethan Hawke and Disney queen Selena Gomez even in the car for more than twenty-five minutes, tops?
In theory, Hawke and Gomez are the stars – Hawke completing his usual “good film, bad film” cycle after “Before Midnight”; Gomez cursing so much that you wonder if she and Miley Cyrus are in a contest to see who can demolish their Disney image first. But the real star is the car, a Shelby muscle car challenging a fleet of Bulgarian police cruisers, practically waving the American flag out the window each time another wimpy European BMW bites the dust (you could fill a small tool closet with all of the criminals caught by Eastern European police in the history of the movies.)
Plot-wise, The “Getaway” finds the lowest common denominator of the lowest common denominator. Describing it wouldn’t quite reach the level of Theo Huxtable’s legendary movie plot summary to Dr. Huxtable back on The Cosby Show: “Somebody stole his car and he had to get it back.” But it’s pretty close. It’s more like, “Somebody stole his wife and he had to steal a car to get her back.” After swiping the car, Hawke is forced to crash through crowded marketplaces and ice rinks to save his wife. The diabolical driving directions come from an underworld kingpin (Jon Voight) giving them, Charlie’s Angels-intercom-style, through the car’s phone system.
If we’re generous, we could say that “Getaway” might be emulating “Drive” with less goo-goo stares and more outright speed. Character is, in theory, only revealed through action, although there’s far more action than revealed character. The messy car chases willfully blow past the 180 rule like it’s a police roadblock or something. However, the 180 rule probably fares better than the suspension of disbelief – you could never watch this much vehicular mayhem and believe that no pedestrian ever rolls up onto the front hood.
As a critic with tendencies toward vulgar auteurism shouldn’t I feel a need to make a case for a low-end Joel Silver-Courtney Solomon schlock car movie? I would say no. The genius of vulgar auteurism favorites is the ability to balance classical Hawksian filmmaking with a post-modern demolition of it. I can appreciate what The “Getaway” is trying for without thinking it has much success at it. Ultimately, there’s not enough vulgar auterism in the world to save this puppy.