Big scenes at the beginning and end of “Gone in Sixty Seconds” prominently feature an auto compactor, which is exactly what should be used on this lemon. Perfectly dreadful in every respect, this big-budget remake of the late H.B. Halicki’s 1974 indie hit may well rep the nadir of the Bruckheimer (and Simpson) franchise, and doesn’t even rate on the most basic level as a good car-chase picture. A pedal-to-the-metal marketing push and audience expectations of high-octane action with Nicolas Cage at the wheel should propel this to a strong opening, but lousy mpg will drain the gas tank quickly.
Best remembered for its climactic 40-minute chase sequence, the original film is a real oddity in that at least 75% of it was shot without direct sound. Whole scenes play out with extensive voiceover conversations among several characters, but with no visual clue as to who’s doing the talking; sometimes there’s no one onscreen or else some men might be observed working but not moving their lips. Beyond that, it’s one of the most purely functional movies ever made; playing essentially anonymous characters, a defiantly unknown cast is seen stealing cars, taking them apart, putting them together and driving them, all of it filmed with a remorseless lack of style that verges weirdly on a radical experimentalism born, no doubt, of technical or know-how limitations. Pic’s amateur-hour fascination is increased by its almost staggering evocation of the era, something at which car movies often prove particularly capable.
But if the new “Sixty Seconds” (the number is spelled out onscreen, whereas numerals appear in ads) is seen, a quarter-century hence, as representing turn-of-the-millennium America, it will be a scary thing indeed. Pic does, in a way, unintentionally parody a certain strain of attitudinal filmmaking that has been prevalent over the last couple of decades, one dominated by lowlife macho men, speeding and crashing metal, throbbing soundtracks, fast cutting that seeks to paper over lack of narrative coherence with distracting effects, and a general coarseness spiked with cheap emotion generated by bear hugs accompanied by rote applause from other characters.
The one conceivable reason to remake “60 Seconds” (Halicki died while filming a stunt for the unfinished sequel in 1989) is to do it bigger and better with hotter cars driven by sexier actors. They got all that right except for the “better” part, and somehow also neglected to include even one exciting car chase to make it all seem worthwhile. There are the beginnings of one: Cage’s ace car thief bumps around heavy traffic in downtown L.A. before hitting the pavement in the concrete bed of the L.A. River, where he can push his ’67 Shelby Mustang GT 500 to 160 mph while cop cars and even helicopters trail hopelessly behind. But it’s shot in the fashionably choppy manner that eliminates the spatial coherence that would create true tension and excitement, and undercuts the desired impression of one long, sustained chase.
Pic’s raison d’etre is the spectacle of a group of car thieves stealing 50 cars in the course of one night. Motivating the action in screenwriter Scott Rosenberg’s construct is a serious case of brotherly love: Legendary auto booster Memphis Raines (Cage in blondish mode) is recruited from long retirement by shady old pal Atley (Will Patton) to save the butt of Memphis’ derelict younger bro, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi, sporting a horrible heroin-chic look), who will be killed by Brit gangster Raymond Calitri (a toothsome Christopher Eccleston) unless he fulfills the latter’s standing order for 50 cars within 72 hours.
Memphis rounds up his loyal crew from the old days, most of whom have since gone straight, including chop-shop mentor Otto (Robert Duvall), jovial driving instructor Donny (Chi McBride) and old flame Sway (Angelina Jolie). A large and seriously grungy bunch of young hangers-on is supplied by Kip, an irresponsible lout who truly only a brother or mother could love. Initial hour sees them getting in various scrapes while scouting the fancy cars they plan to steal, all while being closely followed by two cops (Delroy Lindo, Timothy Olyphant) who know something’s up.
As was established by the first film, the sight of all those cars being stolen one after another isn’t that interesting, and director Dominic Sena makes no attempt to build suspense from the thefts and getaways; it’s only the spectacle of crunching metal, crashing glass and squealing rubber that interests him. But pic is a bore even on the level of a demolition derby, which is surprising given the importance given to hot cars in the Simpson/Bruckheimer oeuvre.
Film flops on every level: Attempt to populate the story with human characters and emotional motivation (utterly absent from the original) is lame and programmatic, Paul Cameron’s lensing is muddily sulfurous and the insistently chaotic score mechanically uses the beginning of nearly every scene for a music cue.
Cage capably holds focus at pic’s center, but he’s been down this road before to better effect. As the wayward brother, Ribisi could not be more unsympathetic or off-putting if he tried, while Jolie has little to do in her small role except give off bad-girl vibes, an act that is already becoming tired. Lindo gives his characterization of the detective a few nice spins, while former soccer star Vinnie Jones stands out from the crowd of background players as a hulking mute who has no trouble getting his points across.