The Ladies Are Dirty
Contrary to its titular promise of speed speed speed, this latest Jerry Bruckheimer actioner takes pretty much forever to get to its wholly predictable and humdrum finale. Gone in 60 Seconds is star Nic Cage’s third Bruckheimer film, after Con Air and The Rock, and it doesn’t offer much that you haven’t seen in either of those movies. There is a spectacular car chase inexplicably divided into two sections, presumably to reheat audience bloodlust for a second go-round but this comes way late in the movie. And while you’re waiting for it, you have to sit through some exceedingly silly characterizations and redundant sit-reps.
Directed by Dominic Sena (who made Janet Jackson’s brilliant longform video for
Kalifornia<>), Gone in 60 Seconds concerns a crew of carboosts forced to steal 50 specific cars in one night, and deliver them to a pier in Long Beach. It has a familiar cool poseur stylishness great lighting, a few cant frames, beautiful and/or gritty characters leaning on walls and looking glum, very shiny and generally fast cars but it also has one of the lamest scripts to come down the pike in some time. Scott Rosenberg (who also wrote the Tarantino wannabe Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead and, coincidentally, Con Air) delivers just about every caper-movie convention reluctant all-american hero, wounded babe, endangered relative, crusty old-timer, eurotrash villain, dogged but outclassed cops without apology or context or innovation. It’s what it is.
Cage plays reluctant hero Memphis Raines, former car thief, now straight and narrow, somewhere in the boonies looking after autos and teaching kiddies to race miniature cars. He looks appropriately beset and bedraggled when he gets the news: his little brother Kip (the hugely talented Giovanni Ribisi, here looking scruffy and vague) has fucked up big time, and now he has a major debt to a psychopathic stolen car dealer, Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccelston, apparently moving on from artsy fare like Shallow Grave and Elizabeth). Calitri (whose name sounds Italian but accent sounds British: don’t even ask) demands that the legendary Memphis reenter the game, deliver the 50 cars by an impossible deadline, and then he’ll spare the sniveling brother. Memphis agrees to the deal, after visiting his diner-waitress Mom [Grace Zabriskie, looking tremulous and haggard as always], who begs him to do whatever it takes to save her baby boy. And so, the plot kicks in: Memphis rounds up his old L.A. crew Donny (Chi McBride); Otto (Robert Duvall), who has a surreally supportive girlfriend played by Frances Fisher, and I don’t think she said more than three words all told); the nonspeaking Sphinx (Vinnie Jones); and a token tough chick, Sway (Angelina Jolie, and I confess, every time she came on screen I was distracted by wondering what it must be like to be married to Billy Bob Thornton) and, against his better judgment, takes on Kip’s young- wild-wild-westers as well (Scott Caan, TJ Cross, William Lee Scott, James Duval).
Action commences once they start scoping the cars, all conveniently located in and around L.A., making lists on a warehouse wall in ink that only a black light can read, and naming the cars with women’s names. This way, Memphis patiently explains to a newbie, if someone catches them on a cellphone call, he or she doesn’t understand that the guys are conspiring to steal expensive automobiles. This means that the film is inclined to smooth panning shots of gleaming chrome and polished fenders, occasionally w ith a designated male petting said surface, cooing to it, and promising that everything will be all right. It also means that the crew members spend a good deal of time on their cells, reporting on the status of Nadine, Vanessa, Samantha or Eleanor (this last is Memphis’s evasive “unicorn,” a 1967 Mustang Shelby GT 500, which he’s tried to steal before, always unsuc cessfully); at one point, Memphis realizes that the Mercedes he’s about to pick up is being watched by the stakeout cops, and so he urgently sends out the cease and desist alert to all his fellow car-heisters: “The ladies are dirty! The ladies are dirty! Walk away!”
Making the cars female is, of course, only restating the obvious: the film is steeped in the traditional notion that decent, red-blooded men have sexual relationships with their cars (and Sway, bless her, has her own arrangement: “I’ve always had a thing for redheads,” she says, about to slide into a pretty little sports car). And indeed, the idea is not original to this film, which is a remake of a 1974 “cult classic” (so says the video box), by entrepreneur and first time filmmaker H.B. (Toby) Hilicki, who prior to making his movie, worked in the auto biz, particularly junkyards and connoisseur collections. Known as the “Crash King,” Hilicki brought to his film a great passion and knowledge, about Grand Theft Auto and the Male Love of Cars. (This guy’s own story is fascinating: he starred in, directed, and did all the stunt work in his 3 low budget car flicks, and died on the set while making a sequel to Gone in 60 Seconds in 1989; check the homagey website at www.gonein60seconds.com).
While Hilicki’s film is coarse and amateurish, the new one is predictably glamorous and glossy, tut-tutting about the moral issues it raises (you shouldn’t steal cars, it’s bad) but also celebrating Memphis’s singular criminal gifts. He makes a speech early on, explaining to Kip that his involvement in the “life,” was never about the money, but about the cars, their lucious colors and surfaces, their throbbing engines and leather seats. Yeah yeah yeah. His dilemmas over his brother and his mother, his erstwhile relationship with Sway and his own dick, as this is sublimated through his relationship with the elusive Eleanor are so much window dressing. The point is to get to the car chase.
On the way to this climax, Memphis deals with a series of variously masculine adversaries, including the fatuous and plainly too-rich Calitri, and a pair of dogged Grand Theft Auto Division detectives, Castelbeck (the prodigious Delroy Lindo) and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant). Memphis shares a history with these policemen, and something of a mutual admiration with Castelbeck (who also loves cars, revving a Cadillac to the point of orgasmic thrill for an appreciative audience made up of Memphis’s men). Memphis has a less sanguine relationship with a rival gang of car thieves less slick, more black led by Master P, of all people. Their few exchanges in the film are all about turf. Not surprisingly, Master P’s people carry heavy assault weapons and tend to thuggish violence (stomping heads), where Memphis is more inclined to clever ruses that don’t require that he get his hands soiled (ripping off an old trick from American Grafitti). Memphis’s approach and panache deem him the heister of the future, using high tech accessories to achieve the same results as Master P’s smackdowns.
And yet, Memphis must eventually have to have it out in the end with Calitri, of course, who is coded throughout the film as just a little too effeminate to be a true and ardent Car Guy (he is in it for the money, which is reasonable, though the movie doesn’t want to admit it). When Memphis, recovering from a near fatal encounter first with Calitri (who unfairly uses brass knuckles) and then Calistri’s monosyllabic henchmen descends with an unstoppable fury, his first demasculinizing gesture is to break up some of Calitri’s beloved furniture (apparently he’s into polish and antiques and such). “Put it down,” pleads Calitri.” “That’s right,” purrs Memphis, “You have a thing about wood,” and he proceeds to smash up the table into little bits. Clearly, in this man’s world, it’s better to have a thing about driveshafts.