Gone in Sixty Seconds
review by Eddie Cockrell, 23 June 2000

In 1989, a junkyard magnate-turned-movie producer named H.B. "Toby" Halicki, who earned the nickname "Car Crash King" by producing, directing and starring in the landmark stunt-filled low-budget 1974 action movie Gone in 60 Seconds ("The Original Basher! 93 Cars Destroyed in 40 Minutes! It’s Grand Theft Entertainment!"), was killed during the filming of the much-publicized sequel when an intricate but routine (for him, anyway) gag went awry. The indefatigable self-promoter left behind a handful of genial, fetishistic movies (The Junkman, Deadline Auto Theft) which to this day exude the confident swagger of a time gone by and the relatively straightforward love of a man for speed and extensive collections of everything from sunglasses and wigs to toys and, of course, high-performance automobiles. Cut to midway through the befuddled and uninspired new remake from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Dominic Sena (Kalifornia) and star Nicolas Cage: "Remember the seventies?" one car thief says to another. "Too young. Thank God," is the snide, terse reply.

Thus do we learn the importance of maintaining a healthy respect for history.

A misfire by any measure, the retooled Gone in Sixty Seconds shifts the focus of the original Maindrian Pace (a part Halicki himself played and obviously relished), skilled car thief and part-time, large-living insurance investigator who gets a little bit of luck at just the right time at the tail end of a jaw-dropping forty-minute car chase through and around Long Beach, California, to scruffy loner Randall "Memphis" Raines (Cage, oddly subdued) who survives a four-day ordeal with minimal skill and a whole lot of luck when he’s forced to plan and execute the boosting of fifty cars in one night to save his loutish brother (Giovanni Ribisi) from a nasty, cartoonish heavy (Englishman Christopher Eccleston) whose motivations are never fully explained.

In order to do this Memphis tracks down the gang that disbanded when he quit the business. This ragtag crew of specialized misfits include former pal Atlee Jackson (Will Patton, in the only character held over from the original), grizzled garage owner Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall, in a role close to the one he played in the Bruckheimer-produced Days of Thunder), stressed-out driving instructor Donny Astricky (Chi McBride), mute muscle the Sphinx (former star British footballer and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star Vinnie Jones), and, in the movie’s most severely underwritten role, Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie as tough-talking mechanic, Ferrari freak and former squeeze Sara "Sway" Wayland (in this movie, most everybody has a cute nickname and talks in a self-conscious, tongue-twisting slang). As if that weren’t enough to propel a feature-length film (which runs a minute shy of two hours, some twelve minutes longer than the original), Memphis is dogged by former rival Johnny B (an uncredited cameo by rapper Master P) and his gang, as well as two members of the Governor’s Regional Autotheft Bureau (G.R.A.B., get it?), Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and his wisenheimer sidekick Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant).

As the window of opportunity dwindles to a single night, and then a couple of hours, before all the cars must be rounded up at a Long Beach pier, Memphis comes face to face with his elusive "unicorn," a silver 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 named Eleanor (as in the original, the high-end autos are coded with women’s names -- but in the first movie, Eleanor is a bright yellow 1973 Mustang fastback). In the ensuing mayhem, Memphis thwarts the bad guy, earns the respect of the cops, and rides off into the sunset with Sway.

If all this sounds vaguely -- and depressingly -- familiar, that’s because Scott Rosenberg’s script continues the contempt for fundamental storytelling exhibited by his work on Bruckheimer’s Armageddon (1998), without any of the kinetic wit and visual panache he brought to their first collaboration, Con Air (1997). Gone in Sixty Seconds clearly fancies itself a character-driven movie, but the characters themselves are woefully underdrawn, the result of numerous plot strands that leave no time for individual development ("the script was still evolving as we were attempting to cast," admits Sena in the production notes, and it shows). Thus, Cage is a wearily reluctant anti-hero who loves his momma (Grace Zabriskie, gone in not much more than sixty seconds after a single, borderline irrelevent scene) and has no time for distractions (Jolie, looking ridiculous in a greasy and garish blonde cornrow thing and in the movie for not much longer than Zabriskie with not much more to do). Stealing liberally from the structures of Armageddon and Con Air, which in turn swiped the concept of the nobly charged miscreants rounded up for a big score from The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch, Rosenberg has cluttered the movie with so many characters and plot strands that nobody -- not even the leads -- make much of an impression.

Worse, the movie completely misses the delirious, naïve joy of livin’ large 1970s style that gave Halicki and his movies such an eccentric appeal. In place of the eye-poppingly conspicuous consumption of the admittedly garish period is a world of dingy garages and surly cohorts chiefly concerned with an absurdly irrational mix of greed and loyalty.

As directed by commercial and music video vet Sena (who claims to have worked for Halicki for a time during the filming of The Junkman in the early 1980s), the film is stylized to the point of distraction. Chris Lebanzon’s editing is abrupt and distracting, while much of the action seems to have been photographed (by first-time lenser Paul Cameron) at sunset, just after a heavy rain. And for a movie about cars and car chases there are no real thrills in the picture, with long passages of exposition (signaled, as in all Bruckheimer films, by major-chord musical passages) slowing things down considerably. The climactic car chase is nothing to get excited about either, capped by a mid-air escape jump as fake looking as it is poorly blocked.

Just about the only silver lining in this cloud is the involvement of executive producer Denice Halicki, who married Toby Halicki only a few months before the accident that took his life. Apparently involved in developing remakes of The Junkman and Deadline Auto Theft, she’d be well advised to let the originals speak for themselves (DVD editions would be nice), concentrate on the book she’s writing on the driver’s life, take Bruckheimer’s money for this ill-conceived wreck of a movie, and move on. Certainly in this crowded summer marketplace, Gone in Sixty Seconds has a title befitting its fate.

Directed by:
Dominic Sena

Nicolas Cage
Angelina Jolie
Giovanni Ribisi
Delroy Lindo
Will Patton
 Christopher Eccleston
Chi McBride
Robert Duvall
Vinnie Jones
Chi McBride
Scott Caan
 Timothy Olyphant
William Lee Scott
James Duval
TJ Cross
Frances Fisher
Grace Zabriskie

Written by:
Scott Rosenberg

Based on the 1974
Motion Picture
Written and 
Directed by:

Toby Halicki





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