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A little too straight and narrow

[Photo: Touchstone Picture]
From left, Tumbler (Scott Caan), the Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), Astricky (Chi McBride), Memphis (Nicolas Cage) and Otto (Robert Duvall) cook up a plot to steal 50 high-end cars.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2000

Too respectable for its own good, Gone in 60 Seconds lacks the reckless thrill of the original.

The remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is superior to its 1974 inspiration in every way except the one that counts most: collisions.

Sure, Nicolas Cage is a better actor than the late H.B. Halicki, who produced, directed and starred in the original. High-tech larceny is cooler to watch than smash-and-grab tactics. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Con Air, Armageddon) has much deeper pockets, buying quality Halicki couldn't afford, like a real script.

What Halicki did have, however, was a tank full of audacity, something the 2000 model misses. For all of its zippy editing and booming sound effects, the new Gone in 60 Seconds always seems to be running under a yellow caution flag.

According to trivia, Halicki demolished 93 cars in his movie, mostly during a 40-minute chase climax, doing his own stunts. That was the movie's sole reason for existing, to mangle metal and burn gas and rubber. Forget the existentialism of Vanishing Point or making reckless driving part of a plot like Bullitt and The French Connection. Speed and vehicular violence were Halicki's essence.

Bruckheimer's version is sleek, more of a sporty model than a muscle car. Fun to take for a summertime spin, but that's about it. High-octane talent idles while everybody should just shut up and drive. Or else, kick it into high gear and play these cartoon characters for all they're worth.

Cage stays glumly focused as Memphis Raines, a name at least deserving one of the actor's goofy Southern accents. Memphis retired from stealing cars to operate a go-cart track, but his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) has taken up the business. Kip botches a "boost," irritating a luxury car bootlegger.

Memphis gets an ultimatum: Steal 50 specified high-end vehicles in 72 hours or Kip dies. Scott Rosenberg's script makes a big deal of Memphis' promise to Mom to go straight and his brotherly protection. He accepts, enlisting Kip, a crafty veteran (Robert Duvall), a former lover (Angelina Jolie) and assorted comic relief felons to assist.

[Photo: Touchstone Picture]
Gone in 60 Seconds has talent to burn, including Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie, right, but it needs more octane in the fuel tank.

Several antagonists notice Memphis' return to Los Angeles. A grand theft auto detective (Delroy Lindo) and his odd partner (Timothy Olyphant, Go) are certain a big heist is brewing. Another crew of car thieves doesn't like Memphis stealing its business. These confrontations are fun, especially Lindo's wary confidence and an escape recalling a classic American Grafitti prank.

When the car's the star
Automobile chase movies were all the (road) rage a generation ago. Cars were the real stars, and they had short, memorable careers.
Those lively rivalries and Halicki's blueprint raise expectations of a fender-bending finale. Imagine all those cops, gang members and the bootlegger's mob in hot pursuit for 40 minutes. Perhaps that bad driving student who pops in twice for laughs and some angry car theft victims could join the chase. This could be the wildest car-tastrophe of all time.

Things don't happen that way. Rivals are weeded out or ignored while the massive heist goes off without many hitches. Some close calls shouldn't be spoiled, and director Dominic Sena adds a few new wrinkles to an anticlimactic car chase. Gone in 60 Seconds is a precision movie machine, right down to its cliched fate for the bad guy and cheery ending.

Bruckheimer's formula is intact: wry anti-hero, colorful accomplices, impossible mission and lots of noise. The mechanics are flawless. It's Rosenberg's script that never gains velocity. There aren't as many quotable quips as in his Con Air script, and the goofy parts -- like a dog swallowing, then passing, important car keys -- are stale. Nothing that a few more thrilling chases couldn't overcome.

Instead, Gone in 60 Seconds is just too darn respectable. Late in the film, Memphis drives his prize catch onto a bridge where an unrelated pileup of cars blocks his path. It looks like Halicki himself just roared through and we missed him. Gone in 60 Seconds lacks the original's reckless spirit, that cathartic rush of vicarious disobedience. Or maybe we drive too much on U.S. 19 to make it seem special.

Gone in 60 Seconds

  • GRADE: B-
  • DIRECTOR: Dominic Sena
  • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Giovanni Ribisi, Delroy Lindo, Will Patton, Chi McBride
  • SCREENPLAY: Scott Rosenberg
  • RATING: PG-13; violence, profanity, sexual situations
  • RUNNING TIME: 119 min.

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