Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #23 – Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)

Posted: July 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Thieves lurk near parked cars, some of whom I haven’t even dreamed of for my die cast collection…yet. So after tapping Play to get back to the movie after updating my wishlist, I decide they must be thieves because they’re led by Giovanni Ribisi trying to look like car thief while also not looking like said car boost (at least to the folks in the movie). A quick tap on the cloned key fob or light just so touch on the slim-jim and the thief is already on your car seat imagining the wealth to own this ride. From here we have the title to tell us the car will be Gone in 60 Seconds.

How do you remake a classic car chase film, made so by being about 15 minutes of boring but instructive narrative and at least 60 minutes of just one car chase? Hire Nicholas Cage. Pay somebody to craft an actual script, even if it feels underwritten (see below). Hire other good actors to enjoy a few fun blastorama months doing a movie in Los Angeles featuring fast cars that they at least got to sit in. Sometimes this is all you need for all the movies likely to land between Star Wars 46 and Doctor Zhivago 2: The Escape to Lara.

Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) steals a sweet pasta rocket and promptly gets distracted at a stoplight by the tomato in the shotgun seat next car over. Engines rev. The car thief puts the boyfriend at the wheel in his place. But, now the cops are on the hunt who follow Kip back to the hideout.

With the police bearing down, Kip and his guys skedaddle having chosen a location with easy escape routes. Approximately, twenty high end cars are left behind. One member of the crew splashes the shopping list painted on the wall with more of the blacklight paint. He obscures only part of the list leaving the listing for a particular car visible should another blacklight enter the warehouse. Another crew member smashes the blacklight on the way out, a plot point to keep the cops in the game. Everyone escapes. For now.

Atley Jackson (Will Patton) travels out of the city to find Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) gainfully employed at his go-kart track somewhere in the warm interior of California. Atley explains to the former leader of the best car boost ring in California just what happened and how much trouble his younger brother, Kip, is in. Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) fronted $10,000 and didn’t get his cars. Calitri will kill Kip, if something isn’t done. And so, the dramatic proposition that carries over from the original movie unfolds: steal 50 high end cars on an impossible schedule, four days for prep and the thefts taking place in one 12-hour period at the end.

The police in the form of Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant) get a vote. As do a rival car theft ring (until easily disposed of at a diner hosting cops on their Code 7). The big bad Calitri gets his vote too, what with his promiscuous use of a car crusher to dispose of enemies and other deadbeats.

In strictest terms, I should be trashing this movie every which way. One, when’s there’s cars on the table, I grade on a generous curve. Two, even with the script concerns listed later the integrated whole is better than you’d think. Three, this movie is also proof that the right cast will elevate an underwritten script into something good enough to play endlessly on basic cable.

On the plus side, this movie trades on the creative team getting lucky in the character meetings well ahead of production. A guy, Sphinx (Vinne Jones), that doesn’t speak? Cool. Sway (Angelina Jolie), the union-mandated girl who exists to romantically frustrate the protagonist? Cool. Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall), as the old-timey chop shop man who can identify a car from the roar of its engine. Extra cool, a substantially more interesting part.

Equally on the plus side, the great majority of these characters, even the ones not highlighted, get at least one scene that sort of acts as their “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue that clues the audience into who they are and why they’re here in this movie. We get short snippets about bemoaning the lack of craftsmanship in auto theft while commenting on the death spiral between boosts and manufacturers over building an unstealable car. We get variations in motive, the thrill steal and Robin Hood. And with general uniformity, what this cast does with facial expressions and body language serving the bios fed at the meeting and not from the actual script saves the watchability of their respective characters and the movie.

We also get a decent older brother-younger brother abandonment conflict. Decent, as in some other writer would take five minutes to say more with the scenes between Mr. Cage and Mr. Ribisi. Could it have happened here? Maybe, but we’ll never know now.

Surprisingly, Angelina Jolie milks her turn as Sway for all the cookies. Described as the girl that Memphis wanted to take with him leaving town, but she wasn’t ready. And she went straight anyway because the fun factor boosting left the city with Memphis. Of everybody in this movie, Ms. Jolie and Sway do the most to make what must be functional and boring on paper spring to life on screen.

But, the things that are good about this movie are in different lighting (a blacklight pun, anyone?) the things that suck about this movie. The characters are set up pretty well with a web of longstanding interactions hinted at, but I can think of several of these threads that actually need to be on screen to have a legitimately good movie that doesn’t need my generous curve. Missed opportunities for other movies titled Gone in 60 Seconds.

What happens if the events of this movie put Memphis and Sway, however temporarily, on opposite sides? Don’t know, no one wrote this script. Even with a sex interrupted scene involving a gearshift and voyeurism upon the randy citizen and date who don’t know they’re about to lose the sweet pasta rocket parked out front, the paper version of this relationship needs the goose. On film, who cares? It works as is.

What happens if somebody staring at that horrifically blinking cursor realizes there exists loads of setup for a three-way generational conflict among the car thieves? We have the old guys, Otto and Atley aged out into supervising positions. Then in the middle Memphis comes back to town to put the old gang back together. And then we have Kip’s crew and the possibility of these clashing character styles and this doesn’t really go anywhere.

This also ties in with the fact that most of the characters on Kip’s younger crew really don’t belong in this movie. Tumbler (Scott Caan) gets in his moments. But, except for a certain character assigned to order pizza and collect laser cut keys from a dog given laxatives no one else on Kip’s crew stands out enough to avoid consolidation into two characters instead of four. A road less traveled for some other writers in the future.

All of the above is still covered by my blanket “Grading on a curve, a generous curve” opinion of this movie. The stunt driving and film techniques of the driving sequences are enough to hold most people’s interest. But, now we have the one thing where it’s harder to grade on my curve. The money chase named…Eleanor.

Eleanor, in all incarnations of Gone in 60 Seconds, is a 1967 Shelby 500 GT Mustang fastback. The protagonist steals this car last tripping the big chase either defines the whole movie (the original) or simply provides the climax. We remember the seemingly plotless original movie because Mondrian (original director H.B. Halicki) runs from every cop in Los Angeles and then switches out the broken but still magically drivable Eleanor 1.0 for the pristine Eleanor 2.0 at a car wash receiving line.

Taken as its own thing, this movie’s Eleanor chase is not bad, if also not particularly awe inspiring. It does what it does and sets up the fist and gunfight that buys Kip clear of the villain and Memphis clear of the cops. And I’ll take any kind of Evel Knievel jump on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It just seems to me that the one place where the remake filmmakers really want to kiss the old fans’ asses is this chase. I suppose the short way to say this is that Eleanor looked too good with only minor damage to mirrors and cracked steaming radiator compared to the legendary damage of the original movie.

So there we have it, an underwritten but joyfully overacted movie on a day where these concepts cancel out (sometimes they don’t). A good reason to explain years of – “Gone in 60 Seconds is on.” – “Cool! Let’s watch!” – even after missing three commercial breaks. And what is my personal writing lesson? “Sorry, Eleanor, you want somebody a little gentler telling your story.”

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