“The Getaway” is a pretty good remake of a pretty good action thriller. Although the attributes and drawbacks of this well-outfitted retelling of Jim Thompson’s edgy crime meller and Sam Peckinpah’s gritty 1972 rendition lie in different places, the net effect of this tale of innumerable deceptions, betrayals and double-crosses is more or less the same. With Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger toplining, this Universal release delivers enough high-octane kicks to make off with some solid coin.
While it may seem pointless to redo a 22-year-old film that wasn’t bad to begin with (with a writer and producer from the original doing encores, no less) , the first version was hardly a classic that should never have been tampered with. At the time, in fact, it seemed like a routine commercial assignment in the midst of Peckinpah’s great run from “The Wild Bunch” through “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”
Still, initial outing featured attractively terse storytelling, plenty of authentic Southwesterngood ol’ boys and, most of all, a brooding, tightly coiled lead performance by Steve McQueen.
On the other hand, the original’s attitude toward women was decidedly dicey, a problem exacerbated by Ali MacGraw’s blandness and Sally Struthers’ shrillness. Along with redressing the balance between the sexes, director Roger Donaldson has cooked up two or three suspense scenes that surpass their earlier equivalents. All comparisons aside, the new film simply engages attention by virtue of its nasty narrative, duplicitous characters and tough action, which puts it a cut above the norm among Hollywood crime sagas these days.
Peckinpah’s protracted original credit sequence, with McQueen’s Doc McCoy in a prison surrounded by deer, was wonderful, but Donaldson has one-upped him with a startlingly fresh prologue, turning on two criminal betrayals, showing how Doc (Baldwin) landed in jail. Early action also firms the characters of Doc’s sharp-shooting wife, Carol (Basinger), and their early partner and eventual nemesis, Rudy (Michael Madsen).
Plot clicks in as Doc is released from a Mexican slammer courtesy of slick crime lord Jack Benyon (James Woods), who recruits the master thief and explosives expert to head a heist of a Phoenix dog track vault.
Reassuring his wife with the well-worn promise that this will be their last job, Doc succeeds in nabbing the cash, but things go awry when a guard is killed. Rudy is nearly snuffed himself in a shootout with Doc, who then honorably goes to split up the loot with Benyon. Taunting the younger man, Benyon oozingly informs him exactly what his wife did to get him released from the pen, and how much she enjoyed it. Enter Carol pointing a pistol, not quite sure whom she intends to shoot.
From this point on, as the McCoys uneasily make their way to El Paso and the Mexican border in a variety of cars, with an unplanned detour by train, “Getaway”’94 becomes increasingly identical to the original, down to specific incidents and lines of dialogue. Some police car chase stuff seems a bit tired and perfunctory, but Donaldson puts the pedal to the floor for the climactic border-town hotel shootout.
With momentary exceptions, pic clicks along neatly, as Donaldson reasserts the talent he displayed for rugged action and contentious relationships earlier in his career, but which seemed dissipated in some of his more recent projects. For the most part, screenwriters Walter Hill (whose second screen credit was the original) and Amy Jones (“Indecent Proposal”) have made an effort to retain and expand what was dramatically effective in the Peckinpah, and to revise or prop up the obvious weak points.
In particular, the character of Carol has been strengthened considerably. Doc here considers her a valuable partner in crime, in addition to being a lusty wife, and she gets to come through in a pinch on more than one occasion. Even Basinger bashers might find themselves rather taken with her gritty turn here, which certainly reps one of the film’s more pleasant surprises.
Baldwin fills the bill perfectly well as the smart, tenacious criminal ready to hang up his hat, but McQueen came with a magnetism and fascination Baldwin doesn’t have — at least not yet. Like a Mickey Rourke crazy with a rock ‘n’ roll fright wig, Madsen fashions a villain you love to hate, while Woods hits a repetitious note of smug superiority as the plot’s mastermind.
Jennifer Tilly seems just feeble-brained as the wimpy vet’s wife kidnapped and enslaved by Rudy, which is somewhat preferable to Struthers’ gross floozy. Hard as it was to imagine who could replicate Slim Pickens’ unique humor in the crucial role of the truck driver who spirits the couple to Mexico, Richard Farnsworth pulls it off, and is even called “Slim” in tribute.
Tech credits are solid, notably the extensive stunt work. Sex scenes between the married co-stars begin with promisingly spicy atmosphere and foreplay, but are cut before things really get cooking. Lucky foreign audiences reportedly will see several minutes more of the apparently too-hot-for-R-rating footage.