Gone in 60 Seconds

There was a time when studios distinguished between “A” movies and “B” movies. The process was devised by the studios to fill double bills. Wary of giving away two high profile movies on one marquee, studios developed programmers, or co-features designed as the bottom half of a double bill.

gonein60secondsThe distinction between “A’ and “B” movies became more evident with the introduction of the Drive-In. Often considered the bastard step-child of the walk-in, drive-ins became so popular that studios refused to release first-run films on their screens. Seizing the opportunity were several small upstarts like American International Pictures, who made double-bills just for the drive-in crowd.

The films released by American International Pictures and their ilk were tailored made for audiences hungry for more than mainstream fare. Drive-in audiences favored action over acting, the more the better. Plots were secondary to the monsters, babes and speeding cars, all of which provided enough temporary entertainment from the backseat acrobatics.

I mention all of this because I believe there is a time and a place for everything. Even though drive-ins have gone the way of the dinosaur, Hollywood still makes “A” and “B” movies. Most of the time, the “B” movies go directly to video or cable. Occasionally, some slip through the cracks and wind up on 3,000 screens nationwide.

“Gone in 60 Seconds” is one of those movies. The film is a remake of a 1974 drive-in cult classic, written, produced, starring and directed by former stuntman H. B. Halicki. Halicki’s film was the perfect drive-in fodder, 90 minutes of high-speed car chases and crashes. There was even a minimalist plot to hold the action together, a rare feat for a film that boasted the destruction of more than 100 cars.

What made Halicki’s film work was that it came with no pretensions. It was what it was. People didn’t flock to the film to see great acting or hear vibrant dialogue. They came to see cars careen out of control. It was mindless entertainment. A 1974 drive-in screen was the perfect time and place for “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

That is why it’s baffling to find “Gone in 60 Seconds” back on cineplex screens 26 years after the fact.

The remake is the brainchild of action producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who gave us “The Rock” (with partner Don Simpson) and “Con Air.” Like those two films, “Gone in 60 Seconds” stars Nicolas Cage, the Oscar-winning actor of “Leaving Las Vegas”.

Cage has developed such a reputation as an interesting actor, one would assume he would be able to do more with his role as a former master car thief dragged back into the business for one last job.

That assumption would be wrong, as Cage finds himself nothing more than a backseat driver to director Dominic Sena’s endless montage of car chases. Even though Scott Rosenberg’s screenplay attempts to humanize the proceedings, it fails miserably.

Cage plays former car thief Randall “Memphis” Raines, dragged back into the business when his younger brother screws up a job. Facing a death sentence from a comically drawn ultra-villain named “The Carpenter,” Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) turns to his older brother Randall to fulfill his contract: heist 50 collectible cars.

In the original film, the car thieves worked with an insurance company to make sure the cars they stole were covered. Even though the characters were thieves, they had honor. There’s no honor in the sequel, which is basically an excuse for the filmmakers to pump up the volume. The cars are more expensive, the chases and crashes more elaborate, the soundtrack deafening.

Not that any of this matters to the film’s intended audience, 14-year-old boys who don’t give a rat’s ass about plot or motive. Older audiences will be surprised to find such talented people as Cage, Angelina Jolie, Delroy Lindo and Robert Duvall lost in all of this mess. Halicki was smart enough to realize that the cars were the star.

The cars are still the star, they just have more expensive drivers. Rosenberg, the crafty scribe of “Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead” and “Con Air,” tries to meld metal with moxie, and comes up short. What should be hip and funny sounds trite and lame. The razor sharp editing does little to help matters. Character development is as thin and transparent as 20 weight oil.

Without the presence of the above the title stars and the slick production values (Paul Cameron’s in-your-face cinematography is the film’s only plus), this effort would have gone directly to video. There’s not enough here to warrant a remake, much less one worth all this fuss. It’s a film about people stealing cars, for God’s sake, not Shakespeare.

I read in the trades that Hollywood is gearing up for a remake of “Smokey & The Bandit.” Excuse me while I drive off a cliff.




Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Duvall, Delroy Lindo, Will Patton, Christopher Eccleston in a film directed by Dominic Sena. Rated PG-13. 119 Minutes.


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