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Friday, Sept. 8, 2000

'GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS'

Been there, done that at 150 kph


Trailers are evil. Not only do they spoil all of a movie's best bits for you (case in point: the money shot from "A Perfect Storm"), they also can take any two hours of dreck and condense it into a one-minute continuous orgasm that will leave you drooling for more.

Critics aren't always immune to this come-on. Take "Gone in Sixty Seconds," the latest McFormula flick from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his latest hired gun, director Dominic Sena ("Kalifornia"). I've always hated Bruckheimer films ("Flashdance," "Top Gun," "The Rock," "Armageddon"), and in fact everything about his entire relentless aesthetic, designed to pound the viewer into submission. But even knowing that, the trailer for "Sixty Seconds" was flashy, slick, sexy enough to make me think that, hey, maybe this one might be kinda cool.

Wrong. Every now and then Hollywood does come up with a good, fast, dumb escapist flick that's a lot of fun, but this ain't one of them. The movie's title must refer to what happens to your mind once the film starts rolling. This tale of L.A. car thieves promises to bring a whole lot of hyperspeed visual excess to the car chase genre, but unless you consider a ramped, multicar leap "new," it has surprisingly little to offer. If "Speed" was the proverbial "roller-coaster ride," then "Gone in Sixty Seconds" is the equivalent of nodding off on the Sobu Line and waking up in Chiba.

Nicholas Cage (apparently looking to repeat the success of "Con Air" with Bruckheimer and the once-promising screenwriter Scott Rosenberg) plays Memphis Raines, a reformed car thief who's forced back into the business when his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) is held hostage by evil crime-lord Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston, the obligatory Brit bad guy).

Needless to say the film has to stretch a bit to differentiate between the good, moral car thieves and the bad, psychopathic car thieves. The good ones (Memphis and his crew) do it not for the money, but for the thrill and sheer love of cars. (One wonders if any of the Hollywood yups making this film would be so ethically forgiving of a homeboy who jacked their Jaguar, especially if he said, as Cage does here, "There are too many self-indulgent wieners in this city with too much bloody money.")

After Kip's wild-boy antics bring the law down on Calitri's operation, Memphis is ordered by Calitri to steal 50 cars in 24 hours, or Kip will be a dead man. Poor old Memphis really doesn't want to steal anymore -- in fact, he's promised his dear old mom as much -- but he agrees to save his brother. Memphis assembles his old gang: crusty auto-restorer Otto (Robert Duvall), mute thug "The Sphinx" (Vinnie Jones), and his old flame, Sway (Angelina Jolie) -- and kicks off a spree of "boosting" cars. This is hard enough in itself, but Memphis has to stay one step ahead of both some gangstas seeking to control their turf, and a wily old detective named Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo).

Early on in the film, one car thief yells at his reckless comrade, "This ain't 'The Dukes of Hazzard!' " but I beg to differ. This is, in fact, the kind of movie where people bellow "Whoooa, s***!" while plowing into heavy machinery at 150 kph. Granted, instead of rednecks in rigs, we get Cage and Jolie decked out in cool urban black, jacking Aston Martins, but the car chases look pretty stale.

One sequence where Cage races away from the cops in an L.A. flood-control riverbed only brings to mind the far superior chase scene in the same location that featured in "T2." "Sixty Seconds" looks particularly feeble when stacked up against the recent French flick "Taxi," which boasts a far more frantic pace, and pushes the envelope with its stunts.

Cage hits a new low here, acting like he has attention-deficit disorder; he creates no character to speak of, just a grab bag of mannerisms left over from other roles. In one scene he's the decent man of honor talking in a southern burr lifted from "Zandalee" or "Wild at Heart"; in the next, he's Castor Pollux from "Face/Off," bug-eyed and over-the-top, talking to cars, his hands shaking like he's having a seizure while he puts on his special leather jacket and exclaims, "I'm a baaaaad man!"

Oscar-winning Jolie, so charismatic and compelling in "Girl, Interrupted" (opening later this month), has nothing to do but stand there and look like a stone fox, resplendent in dreads and a dragon tattoo. Even so, the camera glosses over her to linger longingly on the real stars, the cars. If Jolie were to ask me (as she does Nick Cage in the film) "Which is better, sex or stealing cars?" I know which I'd pick.

Unfortunately, Bruckheimer seems to prefer the Jaguars.

"Gone in Sixty Seconds" is playing at Shibutoh Cine Tower in Shibuya and other theaters.


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