This is one of those movies that have the audience
cheering for the thieves to outfox the cops. Why so? That
requires us to take a sidetrack back to my college Ethics
class, Philosophy 105. The instructor posed this problem of
moral ambiguity. A 21-year-old student, Eddie, has been
doing fine throughout his four years of college except for one
course in music that he was required to take in senior year.
He never had much of an ear for the masters, but Ed is a
highly ethical person bent on bettering the conditions of
people in the Third World. He has been accepted for a
two-year stint in the Peace Corps that would require him to
live in a poverty-stricken country on the sort of money earned
by the residents and to teach them scientific agricultural
techniques to better their yearly food crop. He must be a
college grad to complete his acceptance into this program,
but he has done marginal work in this music class and must
pass the final exam to graduate. He looks over the test and
knows he cannot cut the mustard, but the fella sitting next to
him is a regular Mozart and Ed has the opportunity to
copy the required answers from his paper. Considering his
special circumstance, would cheating be the moral thing to
Cut to producer Jerry Bruckheimer's "Gone in 60
Seconds," based at least loosely on the 1974 movie by H.B.
Halicki--a PG version with a car chase similar to one
climaxing the current work. Memphis Raines (Nicolas Cage),
who dominates the movie, is an ex-car thief, the best, but he
has gone straight--while being watched carefully by Det.
Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) who threatens to put him
away for good if he catches Memphis driving once more
down the wrong path. But like Eddie the college senior,
Memphis is forced into a situation that requires a choice. He
could continue following the straight path, coaching a kind of
little-league group of tots who are driving their Coney-Island
type scooters around a track to the cheers of their parents.
He likes what he's doing. But now his brother Kip (Giovanni
Ribisi), the fraternal love of his life, is in grave danger.
Having botched a criminal job for the evil mobster Raymond
Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), Kip is now under a death
threat. Raymond demands that Memphis steal 50 choice
cars in a period of four days--autos that will be promptly be
exported by ship out of the country--upon which delivery
Memphis will be given $200,000. If he does not agree, Kip
will be killed. We all know that the ex-car thief will come to
the right moral decision.
"Gone in 60 Seconds" spends a good deal of its time in a
climactic chase as the detective, obsessed like a modern
Javert with putting Memphis back behind bars, thinks nothing
of allowing police cars to be totalled as the cop and the thief
soar through California burgs in and around Long Beach.
Given the generic nature of auto pursuits in movies--and
considering that this one never approaches the excitement of
the race shown by John Frankenheimer in "Ronin"--we look
for something innovative in the Scott Rosenberg's screenplay.
Now, be aware that Jerry Bruckheimer himself ("The Rock,
"Beverly Hills Cop," "Armageddon," "Top Gun") states in the
production notes that this movie is character driven.
Bruckheimer? Character driven? Not a chance. The gang
that Memphis rounds up to make off with the fifty choice
autos includes a cross-section of stereotypes, including Scott
Caan in a colorless role, TJ Cross and Chi McBride as
unimpressive agents of comic relief, Robert Duvall as the
man behind the scenes who tallies up the cars as they come
in, and Vinnie Jones (the Sphinx) as the only member of
these stooges with anything resembling interest as an
individual. Angelina Jolie, who gets third billing, does little
except look sexy in a contrived role as a fast-talking car
repair person and tough bartender who teams up all too
suddenly with Memphis after the man dumped her six years
Christopher Eccleston is among the wasted persons in the
film. Playing a vicious mobster with zero tolerance for
jobs not perfectly executed, Eccleston is given not even a
single witty line of the sort that goes to villains and has seen
far far better roles in challenging indies like "Let Him Have It"
and "Jude." We'd not be surprised to learn, though, that he's
taking a bigger load to the bank for this movie than he did for
all his theater work put together--"A Streetcar Named Desire,"
"Bent" and "Miss Julie" among others. Robert Duvall, veteran
of incredible capacities in such demanding films as "Sling
Blade" and "The Apostle," must find it unfortunate that the
targeted audience for this actioner may never see what the
man can do. Giovanni Ribisi knocked out a thunderous role
in the best movie of the year so far, "Boiler Room." "Gone in
60 Seconds," in fact, might even stimulate some in the
audience to ask about the movie world, "Is that all there is?"
If they engage the clutch and put their brains into overdrive,
they might even hit the road to find out, in which case a trip
to "Gone in 60 Seconds" will have been worth the effort.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten