Somewhere in the ethereal plane, Steve McQueen is wishing he'd never invented the car chase. As the dust settles from the critic's screening of the 90-minute chase scene that is "Getaway," I still can't decide whether the featured Shelby Mustang is supposed to be an homage to McQueen's chase in "Bullitt" or a subtle hint that the device is about to be ruined forever. This is the kind of film that desperate producers should have sent back for a 3-D retrofit, and it should tell you something that they never did.
"Getaway" is about a former race car driver who is blackmailed into using a modified Mustang to drive around Bulgaria and do horrible things. The driver is played by Ethan Hawke, a fine actor who should have sent a cardboard cutout in his place to save the producers some money, since his only function is to provide agitated looks that can be intercut with closeups of stick shifts and stomping pedals. Hawke is being blackmailed by a mysterious character who has kidnapped his wife and threatens to kill her if he doesn't follow his instructions to their mayhem-causing letter.
(We never get a clear shot of the kidnapper's face until the final reel of the film, probably because the producers realized it was the only thing that would keep audiences interested for 90 minutes. For this reason, I will play along and not reveal the actor's identity. But you'll likely figure it out well before the final reveal, and realize that he is the only actor on the face of the planet who is appropriate for this role.)
There are two female characters in "Getaway," and each is an insult to female actresses in her own way. Hawke's wife is played by Rebecca Budig. She may be an incredible actress, but we have nothing to go on here, because all she does is look distressed for several five-second stretches. Multiple characters refer to her as "beautiful," which makes me wonder whether the writers assumed that a homely wife wouldn't have justified the same heroic effort.
The other female lead is played by Selena Gomez, another ex-Disney superstar determined to undermine her wholesome image by offering a foul-mouthed, cruel parody of a "strong female character." Her character actually owns the car Hawke is driving, which we learn after she tries to carjack it back from him, fails miserably and somehow winds up his unwitting partner.
Gomez's character is a modern marvel: She provides 95 percent of the film's profanity, somehow manages to be an automotive genius AND a computer genius (using only a conveniently located iPad!), helpfully predicts and explains intricate plot points to Hawke that the audience doesn't care about, and repeats lines like "I hate you," and "could you please be more careful?" with the snarky attitude of a rebellious 13-year-old who listens to hip-hop on her iPod to make her parents angry. At one point late in the film, her character declares, "you don't even know my name, do you?" and the audience realizes 1) no, we don't, and 2) we couldn't care less. Her character's most satisfying moment comes when she is pitched out of a moving vehicle, and your only regret is that Ethan Hawke's cardboard cutout didn't do it himself.
"Getaway" seems bent on breaking the record for most crashed police cars in a single film, only it doesn't seem to realize that when "The Blues Brothers" set that record 30 years ago, it was making a joke. The film takes what must have been months of high-level stunt coordination and beats it into a state of worthless redundancy. If you took all the footage for "Getaway," tossed it all into the air, and let a dozen angry chimpanzees assemble the pieces, you'd wind up with the exact same movie.
Someday in the years to come, aspiring stand-up comedians will use "Getaway" to rehearse their "Mystery Science 3000" skills. A graduate student will write a 20-page paper on its subversive cultural symbolism, just to see if it can be done. Friends and family will scour discount bins at Wal-Mart to find copies of the film to use as ironic birthday presents. Up until this point, I thought "The Host" was the worst film I'd seen this year. But "Getaway" feels more criminal. It takes a classic device that should be used to punctuate the highs and lows of a plot and treats it like a 16-year-old who has just discovered Led Zeppelin and plays "Stairway" 20 straight times on his stereo. It offers us a sequence at a train station that makes "Fast and Furious 6's" 30-mile airport runway feel logical, and sells out to the lowest common denominator in a way that would make Michael Bay blush. If the filmmakers had found a way to work in a love triangle involving vampires and a moody werewolf, the theater would have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum.
Yet for all of its vices, I can't help but think that we've brought "Getaway" on ourselves. It's not the car chase film we need right now, but it's probably the car chase movie we deserve. And if the finale is any indication, a sequel could be ready to go.
I realize that all of this may wind up making you want to see "Getaway" even more, but my sincere advice is to save this one for a late night on basic cable with a group of friends. That way you can yell at the TV, rewind the best parts, and give your $10 to the charitable foundation of your choice instead. If you must see it in a theater, at least wait for it to hit the dollar screens.
"Getaway" is rated PG-13 for non-stop mayhem and action violence, continual profanity, and the horrible sensation that your brain cells are being sucked out of your sinuses. Amazingly, there is no sexual content. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your silver lining.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English Composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.