'Getaway' roars its engines but goes nowhere
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
"Getaway," which stars Ethan Hawke as an ex-auto racer forced to tear through Sofia, Bulgaria, at the behest of a master criminal who has kidnapped his wife, comes as a nice late-summer surprise. This year, we've been subjected to what seems like an endless wave of dreary, dimwitted would-be blockbusters with too many CGI creations and budgets north of $100 million. With "Getaway," it's nice to know that Hollywood can still buckle down, tighten its belt and make a dreary, dimwitted would-be thriller with too many practical car crashes on a much lower budget. "Getaway" wants to be "Taken" on wheels, as Hawke uses his very specialized skills to do what must be done. It winds up being a parody of itself, with vehicular mayhem turned into background noise and Selena Gomez as a car-loving gearhead and, yes, computer hacker forced to say things like, "Even if we could trace it, he'd just dump the IP"
Directed by Courtney Solomon, whose previous films include "An American Haunting" and "Dungeons & Dragons," "Getaway" isn't just a cheap and lazy film -- what's worse is that it's written to be cheap and lazy. The action takes place in Sofia, Bulgaria, which is explained with a throwaway line, but you know that the real reason is because your dollar-for-destruction budget goes way further in Bulgaria than it would in the U.S.A. The car Hawke is forced to drive -- a custom Shelby Super Snake Mustang -- is festooned with cameras inside and out so our master manipulator (Jon Voight) can see and track what Hawke does and says in the car -- but also so that we can get the bumper's-eye view, grainy and video-bright, of all of its smashes and crashes and bounces. In the past, Hollywood car chases aspired to the level of "Bullitt," "The Road Warrior," "Diva" and other cinematic marvels; in "Getaway," the action aspires to the level of a YouTube clip some kid shot on his helmet-cam.
In a piece of casting clearly designed to get young people into the theater, it turns out the car Hawke is told to hijack belongs to Selena Gomez's plucky rich kid, who customized it herself, thereby giving her and Hawke something to bond over after she gets put in the passenger seat for the rest of the film. She also uses her iPad to rip off a plot point from "Speed." If you want to just mimic and mock other, better action films, well, it turns out there's an app for that. Writers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker deserve most of the blame here: Their film confuses velocity with vitality, thinks propulsion equals purpose and offers complication when it thinks it's giving us complexity.
The performances are a letdown as well. Hawke, so good in everything from "Before Midnight" to "The Purge" this year, looks like he's just waiting for a paycheck that will make up for playing a character named Brent Magna. Gomez, who proved earlier this year that she's capable of a real performance in "Spring Breakers," has to sit like a plucky robot spouting insults and exposition in between being scared of Hawke's driving and soulfully saying that she's along for the ride all the way to the end. At the tail end of a brutal and squalid summer moviegoing season that gave us "Oblivion," "R.I.P.D." and other expensive egregious failures, this final offering of bold, bad, budget-conscious action is like the grim chaser that follows up a sour-tasting bout of binge drinking. My advice for curious moviegoers pulled in by Hawke, Gomez or the unfulfilled promise of gritty driving action: Turn the title into two words, and then keep away, too.
James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com and Cinematical.com. He's covered film festivals, including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.