[30 August 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“You don’t even know my name, do you?” When the kid (Selena Gomez) poses this question, about halfway through Getaway, you realize that indeed, you don’t know her name, and neither does the fellow with whom she’s spent the past hour on screen. That the logical next step, her announcement of her name, is then cut off by one of the movie’s many repetitive action bits is not the surprise it might have been, precisely because the interruption is a repetition. But it does underscore the kid’s status here, which is to say, plot device.
She’s actually a useful plot device, but the plot around her does her no favors, being godawful. Briefly, she’s in Sofia, Romania, in a car with Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke), a former brilliant NASCAR driver whose career went wrong, he says, because “I believed what they said about me.” (Whatever that was.) Now he’s in a pickle, because someone has kidnapped his wife (Rebecca Budig)—a trauma relegated to a couple of minutes worth of Taken rip-off images—and is now insisting that he complete a series of “tasks” in order to secure her return.
These tasks involve driving, specifically driving a tricked-out Shelby Cobra Super Snake through the streets of Sofia. It’s Christmas time, so these streets are crowded in order to ensure crashes and desperate swerves to avoid pedestrians, the car is armored so as to withstand all manner of damage, and it is also outfitted with cameras so as to provide the mysterious kidnapper (who appears as an unshaven face with lips parted just enough to show creepily aging teeth and annoyingly slurpy coffee habits).
This initial minimalist narrative proceeds as a series of Fast and Furious-ish shots of the gear shift, the road, individuals diving out of the way, objects tossed, and cop cruisers in pursuit, cut up occasionally by the lips or by flashbacks of the wife with a Christmas tree or dragged around by burly men in a Romanian basement. She does a lot of weeping and a bit of throwing of self against the grate in the room where she’s left, but it’s hard to care whether she’s recovered or not. Still, you understand this is Magna’s big deal, and so you put up with all the crashes and swerves, followed by more crashes and swerves, as well as a few definitively unclever exchanges between the chin and the driver.
Getaway—whose title is as senseless as anything else here, seeing as no one gets away from anyone—needs a dose of something. And so the kid appears, an unhappy American kid in Romania, wearing a Tigers cap and a hoodie, Gomeza gone gangsta. She’s very cute, but she adds no other dimension to this premise other than that she knows something about computers and codes, and comes equipped with a couple of phones, an iPad, and all manner of snarky manic pixie attitude. This last is demonstrated in her first moments on screen, when she points a gun at Magna and demands that he return her car, at which point you realize they’ve been put together by the all-seeing, all-directing kidnapper for a reason, though it takes Magna and the kid another 30 minutes to arrive at this absolutely obvious conclusion.
Their utter slowness of the kid and Magna’s uptakes is not a little irritating throughout the film. She’s in the car, you see, in order for them to be able to explain the plot to one another and so to you as well, but because that plot is a) nonsensical and b) self-evident, the explaining is redundant, a sign that the movie doesn’t think you can keep up. This in itself is funny—in a way that might be metaphysical or maybe just generically meta—because Getaway is supposedly about speed—indicated by all the fast cuts and swish pans and racing cars—but is sluggish in every other way. You’re multiple steps ahead of every turn of story, which makes the process of watching that story unfold something of a schlep. When at last the kid announces, “I have an idea,” Magna looks appropriately surprised and you laugh out loud. Never has a movie been so plainspoken about its own lack of ideas.
With one exception. Near the end of the film, Magna stops complaining and shuts off his phone connection to the lips and, best of all, the camera settles down. More specifically, it’s set on the front end of Magna’s car, following a van in which the kid is now being kidnapped away from him. The shot, not so much his as the Super Snake’s, follows that van, through lights and around corners and along straightaways, for about two minutes. The image is mesmerizing, and suddenly you realize what Getaway might have been, an essay on movement and motive and anticipation. It is none of these things. It is not even as compelling a look at the streets of Sofia as the remarkable documentary Sofia’s Last Ambulance. It is, instead, a pile-on of shots, some featuring a cute kid with no name.