I drive a Saturn. A Saturn station wagon. Yes, I’m a dork. But I can console myself with this notion: Not only does this model have the distinction of being the least stolen car in America (according to Consumer Reports or somebody), but no one is ever going to ask me to lend my wheels to the production of a film about high-end car thieves. I can just imagine all those Ferrari owners standing around during the shooting of Gone in 60 Seconds, biting their fingernails to the quick as their babies were put through punishing stunts.
And they risked their beloved cars, it turns out, for nothing.
In the cinematic ranking of cool criminals, those who boost classic, collectible cars come in somewhere between jewel thieves and gentleman cat burglars — pretty high up, in other words. The lure of the outlaw, the glamour and sex appeal of nonviolent criminals… does Gone in 60 Seconds exude any of this? Nope. Not an ounce. And I thought Mission: Impossible 2 was boring.
Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicolas Cage: Bringing Out the Dead, 8MM), retired from grand theft auto lo these several years, is dragged back into the game when his little brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi: Boiler Room, The Virgin Suicides), screws up a job for the inexplicably insane criminal mastermind Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston: Elizabeth, the talents of whom are completely wasted). See, Kip has always idolized Randall, and as dopey little brothers are wont to do, he follows in big bro’s felonious footsteps, though naturally, Kip lacks the discipline and respect the craft requires. (These kids today…) Now, in order to save Kip’s neck, Randall has to steal 50 unbelievably cool and rare cars in one Los Angeles night for Calitri.
So, in the same way that Armageddon was a tender, bittersweet story of bravery and hope in the face of crushing odds, this is a touching tale of brotherly love and devotion. Oh, and of cars. Never have I seen a film so fetishize automobiles. Director Dominic Sena’s camera slinks along the steel curves of every kind of four-wheeled symbol of male midlife crisis you can think of, with the same soft-focus glow that made the entirety of Armageddon look like a Nike commercial — let’s call it the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, and how scary is that? Gone in 60 Seconds is nothing short of car porn. As Randall himself says, he steals cars not for money but because the beauties are there to be “plucked.” Which nicely answers the question one of Kip’s young cronies asks of Randall later: Why does he call cars by girls’ names? Duh: because he wants to pluck ’em.
And as with most porn, there’s nothing the least bit sexy in any of this. Cage seems to imagine himself quite the stud — and I guess someone in Hollywood must agree with him, seeing as he’s the $20 million star here — but when his Randall glares at himself in a mirror and intones, “I am a baaad man,” how could I do anything but giggle? Cage, with his vapid grin and vacant stare, is utterly sexually nonthreatening. Angelina Jolie (The Bone Collector, Playing God) — as Randall’s thieving lieutenant, Sara “Sway” Wayland, and what’s with all the “quotable” nicknames? — is intended as some additional catnip for the boys, as if the cars weren’t enough, but she’s just scary, with her ugly dreadlocks and menacing lips. Together, Randall and Sara have the most frightening kissing scene since The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Do Cage or Sena or scriptwriter Scott Michael Rosenberg (who, obviously a favorite of testosterone-fueled producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also wrote Con Air and did uncredited work on — surprise! — Armageddon) wink at us, letting us know they know exactly how preposterous this all is? Nope. This is deadly earnest business, with lots of gnashing over familial responsibilities and an attempt to borrow some weight from Les Misérables with the obsessively driven, Javert-like cop, Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo: The Cider House Rules, Strange Justice). As a result, Gone is intermittently and unintentionally hilarious, thanks to overblown dialogue like the description of Calitri by Randall’s mentor, Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall: Deep Impact, The Apostle): he’s “a jackal tearing out the soft belly of our town.” Credit to Duvall for saying this line with a straight face.
But it’s the never-ending one-upmanship action movies have devolved into that really makes Gone both unbearably absurd and deadly dull. Set pieces have to go one step beyond those in last summer’s flicks, and story logic can be damned. So here we see cars doing things that are so physically impossible that only Wily E. Coyote could have choreographed the stunts, contained in car chases that defeat the entire movie’s purpose: Surely, the point of stealing rare, expensive cars is to get them to their new owners in one piece, no? Plus, in what is unlikely to enhance the already soiled reputation of the LAPD, we’re supposed to buy that an army of cops in cars and in helicopters would hunt down a single speeding car (in the sequence that opens the film, the cops don’t even know the car is stolen). It’s one thing for the police to risk the kind of civilian injury and property damage we witness here in pursuit of a murderer or other dangerous felon. But It’s. A. Car. Worse, the absurd ending of the film completely subverts the character of Castlebeck, and it was his unbalanced desire to see Randall in prison that was the only possible, if nevertheless inexcusable, justification for the final intense and dangerous chase of a stolen car driven by Randall.
Of course, if the thieves didn’t drive fast and recklessly, and the cops didn’t chase them, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie. But there isn’t much of movie now. Gone in 60 Seconds is passionless, heartless, thrill-less, and cold. Only the extremely easily amused will enjoy… and since 99 percent of the packed Friday-night audience with whom I saw this flick seemed to consist of such, this is sure to be a big hit.