I don't think I've seen a more perfect example of paint-by-numbers filmmaking than director Courtney (DUNGEONS & DRAGONS) Soloman's car-chase/heist film GETAWAY. Here's what I mean: I'm convinced that Solomon and his team shot one long car chase through some city in Bulgaria using their stunt teams, then they shot hours of footage of just Ethan Hawke's hand shifting gears in the Shelby GT500 Super Snake, then they shot hours of Selena Gomez (playing Hawke's prisoner/sidekick) screaming at Hawke various versions of "I hate you" and "Your driving sucks." Then probably 15 minutes of just Jon Voight's withered, villainous mouth saying variations on "Time is running out," "Tick tock," and "I don't think you're going to make it" as he taunts the former racer (Hawke), performing certain tasks for Voight so he doesn't kill Hawke's wife (Rebecca Budig).
Yes, of course I realize this is how movies are made. You film the individual parts and edit them together. No shit. But with GETAWAY, you can actually still see the numbers underneath the painted screen that read "Voight-mouth," "Shift," "Screaming Selena," "Bulgarian police car flips," "Hawke downshifts," and the list rinses and repeats in a pattern that is almost freakishly predictable. I bet people who are good at counting cards can predict the next six scenes at any given point in this movie. It's horribly embarrassing how this nonsense is pulled together.
The story opens with Hawke coming home (in Bulgaria?) to a wrecked house and a missing wife, who has been taken by Voight's minions. Hawke plays disgraced and shell-shocked former driver Brent Magna, and Voight claims to be his biggest fan. Sporting what I can only assume is a Bulgarian accent, Voight (whose face we don't actually sees almost for the entire film—only his jerky lips surrounded by facial stubble) gives Brent instructions on how to drive around the city in a pattern that appears to force the police chasing him to block off certain specific streets. If Brent strays from the plan, Voight will kill the wife. The baddies have cameras mounted all over the car to track the driver's movements, so a great deal of the film is viewed through these cameras.
Hawke steals the speedy, near indestructible vehicle out of a parking garage, but it actually belongs to classic car fanatic Gomez, whose father just happens to be a high-level muckety-muck at one of the biggest investment banks in the country (that would be, again, Bulgaria). At some point, she crosses paths with Brent, and Voight makes it clear that she's a part of his plan, so she can't leave the car either, which does not sit well with her.
What happens from that point is basically a variation on the SPEED formula, complete with Gomez finding a way to make the car's dozen or so cameras loop an image so she and Brent can do something sneaky without Voight noticing. The car chases and crashes themselves are somewhat exciting, but after a while all the Bulgarian police cars smashing into something or flipping end over end or exploding start to look the same. I realize with films like this, you aren't supposed to analyze them or look for character development, and believe me, you won't be tempted to do either. But good god, give us something with a pulse to hang onto and give a shit about. The editing is so rapid fire that much of the time you can't tell what's happening, and I'm betting you'll have a headache.
There is one kind of glorious shot in GETAWAY, and maybe I only think that because it was a single, continuous take. It's near the end of the film, and Brent is driving through the city, the camera is mounted on the front of the car, and he's rapidly accelerating, narrowly missing fellow drivers and other obstacles. And it just keeps speeding up without cutting, and I'll be damned if it doesn't generate a little tension the faster he goes. Hell, every time he approaches an intersection, I got nervous because he doesn't brake for any color light. I have no idea how long the take is — maybe two or three minutes, but it felt good to have the feeling of standing still for once during this high-speed ride.
It's almost impossible to judge acting in a dopey film like this. Hawke puts on his serious face right off the bat and pretty much never changes expressions for 90 minutes. Gomez shows a bit more expression, but her rattling off specs of her or any car was about as believable as her saying, "I think my dad told me once..." before launching into some ridiculously detailed fact about the security system in her father's bank. And Bulgarian Voight Lips? Well, they're magnificent.
The problem with GETAWAY isn't that it's implausible and stupid; my issues have more to do with being bored and not caring how things wrap up. It's pretty easy to predict who might live and die, so what else is important here? They say the destination isn't as important as the journey, but when the journey feels like someone fed a punch of scenes in an iPod and pushed "shuffle," how do you assign any value to that? I'll do it anyway: the value is zero. Viva Bulgaria!