There’s nothing particularly wrong with the action thriller Getaway except that it might be a bit too sanitized and video game-y for its own good. It’s an effective, no frills chase movie with some inventive set pieces, but there’s a distinct lack of grit or immediacy to the proceedings. When Roger Ebert described the big screen adaptation of Doom and said it was like watching someone play a video game without ever being handed the controller, he might as well have been talking about this movie, as well.
Former race car driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) comes home on Christmas Eve to find his wife has been kidnapped. He doesn’t have many enemies in his new adopted home country of Bulgaria, so the idea that someone would target him strikes him as somewhat baffling, to say the least. He’s ordered to steal a tricked out, armour plated Shelby Cobra with cameras mounted all over it and microphones in the car in case he tries to contact the police. Brent will get his wife back if Brent successfully completes every dangerous driving task the mysterious caller and mastermind (Jon Voight) tells him to do. Things get complicated when the car’s original owner – a spoiled rich American brat, played by Selena Gomez – tries to steal back her own vehicle and is forced into going along with Brent’s near suicidal mission.
Director Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons, An American Haunting) deserves a lot of credit for the film’s marginal success. He knows exactly the kind of movie he’s been hired to make. The plot is set up in the first thirty seconds and aside from the requisite twists that can be seen coming from pretty far off, he doesn’t try to elevate the story itself into some sort of high art the script can’t possibly hope to attain. So self knowing is the film that there’s even a shot early on of a video game controller hanging on the driver’s side door. The controller is never used, but it’s clear that Solomon aims to become a part of the Neveldine/Taylor school of filmmakers who can craft serviceable action yarns that move too fast and ridiculously for people to realize they make no sense.
But that’s part of the problem, as well. While Brent is forced to do a lot of nasty things (crash into crowds of Christmas shoppers, put the lives of numerous police officers in danger), it’s all completely bloodless and cold. It’s a project that cries out for a certain degree of misanthropy and devilish glee that has either been jettisoned to get a PG-13 rating or was just never there to begin with. Every mission Brent is sent on might as well just have a lifebar at in the top corner of the screen. The timer is almost always there, so why not just go the full video game route? The film’s first twenty minutes or so are the part of the game where the player would be getting used to the controls. The second act is where the missions get serious and take the player beyond the car and they find out things aren’t exactly how they seem. The final act is where the player would have to use all their skills to save the day.
It’s a shame because the car stunts are actually quite inventive and deserving of a better film than this cold, bland exercise. It’s clear that the cameras all around the car are simply there to actually film the chases, but the footage they get looks different than most filmmakers are able to attain. There’s also a refreshing lack of CGI to the smash-ups that lend the film the only edginess it can muster. Just before the film’s truncated and hopelessly illogical finale, there’s a lengthy tracking shot from the hood of the car as Brent chases down the villain. It’s a stunning shot and one of the best action moments in any film this year, but that just underlines how the filmmaking and the actual material are kind of out of step with each other.
Hawke doesn’t have much to do except act concerned. He’s fine, but he deserves better. Gomez is an annoyance, but her character is meant to be, so she’s successful at portraying the largely unhelpful sidekick. Voight isn’t even on camera aside from his mouth delivering a ludicrous Eastern European accent, but he does get to say “Scheiße” as loud as humanly possible, so that’s good for something.
It’s no use questioning why the only people we get to follow in Bulgaria are white Americans. We shouldn’t ask why the entire movie only takes place in a ten or fifteen block radius and no one is ever able to catch the most inconspicuous car in the city to commit crimes in. It’s just a movie, and with a bit more energy and zeal, it could have been a great little B-movie. Instead, it’s only adequate time wasting for people who just want one last summer thrill ride. It’s the ride that everyone goes on after they’re tired of going on roller coasters. It’s the bumper cars of late summer cinema.