Director: Dominic Sena
Writers: H B Halicki & Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Chi McBride, Delroy Lindo, Robert Duvall, Christopher Eccleston
Genre: Action, Light Comedy and Drama, Car Worship (I mean theft)
In honor of Baby Driver’s release (our review here), I want to look back at another car chase movie about love and how Crime Doesn’t Pay: the weird and awkward and wonderfully daffy Gone in 60 Seconds. This movie is the 2000-released complete remake of a seminal 1974 movie that revolutionized how car stunts were performed and filmed. The 2000 60 Seconds is not a revolution; it rebuilds a great car chase as a good movie.
Violence: Both fistfights and gunfights, some cars are blown up, a man is knocked over a railing to his death, someone is almost crushed by a car compactor, and many people are injured during an extended car chase.
Language: ***hole and equivalent words are used.
Sexual content: There is an extended discussion of sex. A couple kiss in a car while watching another couple kiss and undress.
Drug/Alcohol References: Heroin is shown and discussed. No drugs are used on screen.
Other Negative Content: The main plot concerns stealing cars. A police officer lets a criminal off for saving his life.
Positive Content: The engine of the movie is Memphis’ sacrificial love for his younger brother Kip. Crime is shown as fun but extremely destructive and pointless. Loving relationships are the most important thing in the world of the movie.
This movie is a jigsaw with some broken pieces. The dialogue is as cliche as you can get, Giovanni Ribisi can’t carry the emotional weight of his role as Kip, and some of the action scenes serve no purpose (looking at you Johnny B).
I love this movie. And I think the reasons why I love it can tell us a lot about why movies do or don’t work. I love this movie because I understand what everyone wants. Memphis wants to save his brother and retrieve the best parts of his old life. Calitri wants to get his cars but really cares about being in control at all times. Detective Castlebeck wants to catch the car thief that got away. The younger car thieves want to prove themselves, and most of the older ones want to return to fulfilment in their past vocation.
Everybody wants something. And their desires are both revealed and altered by their decisions in the face of the events of the movie. That’s something I can say about fewer and fewer movies: that I know why these characters are part of this plot and make these choices. All art gains power from being specific: war movies show you the awful nature of war by showing you the specific stories of individuals. This works in goofy B-movies about car theft. It works in all stories. It doesn’t make 60 Seconds a good movie, but it makes it well-executed.
Besides the clarity of its character motivations, the other great strength of 60 Seconds is its sincerity. By the end of the film it has said what it wants to say without irony or cynicism. If a movie wants to reach human beings it can contain irony and cynicism but it cannot have them at its core: it needs to have something it wants to earnestly say. 60 Seconds wants to say that love for friends and family gives life meaning and purpose. So it says that.
The Fast and the Furious franchise grasped the power of sincerity and drove it to squintillions of box office dollars. The other powerhouse franchise of this century, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is still working on sincerity. At the bottom of the human heart there are no quips or pop culture references.
Besides family, 60 Seconds is sincere about cars. The car thieves are craftsmen, scorning the idea of damaging the cars–but they are also aesthetes, art critics whose chosen medium is the automobile. At one point Memphis talks about why he stole cars, a ridiculous monologue that Cage makes believable:
I didn’t do it for the money, I did it for the cars. Gleaming in Marina Blue, Sunfire Yellow, Marlborough Red, begging to be plucked. And I’d do it. I’d boost her, and just blast the pump springs, instantly feeling better about being me.
Memphis is not a businessman or a psychopath: he is the American consumer in criminal guise. Each car is a renewal of the thief’s self-image. The cars also stand in for romantic fulfilment: not only do all fifty cars have female code names, but Memphis’ relationship with ex-girlfriend Sway (Jolie) is discussed with car analogies and ends by driving away together. Kip’s failure to grasp this artistic-romantic connection between thief and car, between lover and beloved, is his main failing.
In the third act a car becomes virtually a main character: a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 code named “Eleanor.” Memphis leaves Eleanor until last because he has almost died every time he tried to steal a ’67 Mustang. Throughout the long chase scene that is most of the third act, Memphis cajoles and woos Eleanor even as she grows more damaged and unreliable. At the narrative climax of the movie, Eleanor is put into the car crusher…
And then another Eleanor returns at the end of the movie as the crew’s gift to Memphis. There’s no money for the heist. What he gets is an Eleanor that needs restoration. Memphis left behind car theft out of love for his brother, and he returned for a job out of love; now he’s left that world behind. He has broken the curse and resurrected the best parts of his old life. The entire point of the movie is delivered through car ownership. Quintessentially American.
Eleanor redeems the long car chase, which is…well, it’s all right. That in itself is a problem. Car chases are like curries. If they don’t make an impression, it’s a problem. An “all right” car chase is a waste of precious time. The 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds did ambitious and daring stunts; its remake can at best be called competent. Easy to see why it was a disappointment on release to critics, audiences, and financiers.
More importantly, the car chase is a dead end, wheel-spinning in the plot of the movie–or it would be, if Eleanor were not central to the movie’s thesis statement at the end. Every time Memphis pleads with Eleanor during the chase is preparing us for the Eleanor that needs restoration, for Memphis’ luck to entirely change.
A car can be more than a car, when the entire movie prepares you for it. I only wish the movie itself were more than it appeared. Despite some good performances Gone in 60 Seconds is not worth revisiting unless you have a bizarre affection for it (me) or a research interest in flawed turn-of-the-century action movies (probably not you).
+ A sense of joy and fun + Nicolas Cage brings his A game to a B-movie
- Some awkward and insubstantial performances - Heavy-handed script - Car chases are nothing special
The Bottom Line
A fun movie that takes the easy way out at many points. Occasionally tawdry, often mawkishly sentimental, equally devoted to the cult of the family and the cult of the automobile. Too fun to hate but not good enough to recommend.