In another universe where other car-bound movies didn’t exist, Getaway might have possessed some novelty value. (“It’s Ethan Hawke driving a car for an hour and a half!”) But in our universe — the one where the guy-in-a-car action genre has already given us both masterpieces like Duel and The Driver and disposable knockoffs like Vehicle 19 — Getaway’s only claim to fame is that it may be the dumbest movie released this summer.
A gearhead movie that is certain to offend most gearheads, Getaway doesn’t waste any time getting started, kicking off with former race-car driver Brent Magna (Hawke) being informed by a mysterious voice that his wife has been kidnapped and that he must perform a series of extra-legal tasks over the course of the night if he ever wants to see her alive again. Most of these tasks involve causing havoc on the streets and sidewalks of Sofia, Bulgaria, (they’re in Bulgaria!) with a souped-up Shelby Mustang Silver Snake that seems virtually indestructible. He smashes into cars and water trucks, drives onto pedestrian walkways, speeds down stairs, destroys a power plant, and leads the cars of the inexhaustible Sofia police force on many, many chases that usually end with the cop cars caroming against each other or crashing into walls or doing somersaults in the air. Along the way, a young girl (Selena Gomez) tries to rob him, but the Voice tells him to take her, too. Needless to say, she comes in handy in all sorts of unexpected ways.
That the movie starts off fast and doesn’t really stop would ordinarily be a virtue, except that director Courtney Solomon’s shooting and cutting is so frenzied and haphazard that we don’t ever really get a sense of what’s happening. Mostly, we just get a lot of pyrotechnics and loud noises, as Sofia’s police force and an endless cavalcade of faceless bad guys on motorcycles meet their automotive fates. It might have helped if there were some visual discipline to the style here. At least Vehicle 19 had the conceit of keeping the camera inside the car at all times. That movie wasn’t very smart either, but next to Getaway, it looks like Lincoln. Here, we get a lot of angles of Hawke and Gomez in the car, and a lot of shots of what’s happening outside, but as cut it’s all an incoherent mishmash.
That matters because this is supposed to be a film all about the action that’s happening outside the car, and yet we hardly ever grasp what’s going on. At one point, our heroes are chased into a dark, abandoned factory, and Brent looks ahead of them, guns the car, and says, bravely and breathlessly, “I’m gonna go for it!” Except that we can’t even see what “it” is. Is he going to jump over something? Is there a bad puddle on the factory floor? Did he misplace his E-Z Pass? I saw the movie and I still don’t know what it was he “went for” there. (It also doesn’t help that the thing looks like it was shot on VHS.)
Anyway, there is one nice long take near the end — sort of a car’s POV that goes on and on, weaving in and out of traffic, following the bad guy’s SUV. But it just adds insult to injury, like the director briefly dangling a better film in front of our eyes. Could there have been a way to make this work? The Fast and the Furious films are ridiculous, too, but they’re (mostly) clear about what’s happening onscreen — the better to wow us with their cartoonish silliness. Getaway doesn’t seem to care about any of that. It just wants to bludgeon us into submission with its pyrotechnics, its speed, and its sound. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a concussion.