One of those newfangled car-chase movies in which “chase” describes not just a scene or two but the whole damned thing, Getaway is both preposterous and pure. It’s a CGI-free demolition derby in which Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez trash the lovely Bulgarian city of Sofia with nothing but clenched jaws, multiple digi-cams, a 2008 Shelby Super Snake Mustang and the skimpiest of plot lines.
Some might wonder why the filmmakers took this foot-to-the-floor approach, but then, they’re probably not the types who buy tickets to see Getaway. Such questions are irrelevant and inappropriate – you don’t ask a gamer why everyone’s in such a rush in Grand Theft Auto. Just shut up and drive, dude.
In a movie that, during production, trashed 130 vehicles, required some 6,000 editing cuts and never once stooped to computer-generated trickery, the story goes like this: After his wife is kidnapped by anonymous baldies in leather jackets, a disgraced former Nascar jockey Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) must pilot his souped-up muscle car at the whim of a man we never see. But he can see Magna and his reluctant co-pilot, a conveniently tech-savvy teen (Selena Gomez), and he directs the mayhem with cool cruelty. In due time, the cocky, computer-geek teenager cottons to the bad guy’s master plan – it’s got something to do with, I kid you not, robbing the bank her poppa happens to run – but not until we’ve been through a string of crashes, hairpins and rubber-burning near-misses.
Toronto-born director Courtney Solomon has shot the movie mostly on high-definition video, and this, combined with the use of mini-cams placed in, on and around the Shelby, and all over Sofia, gives Getaway an on-the-fly urgency and immediacy, which is exactly what’s called for under the circumstances. Everything in this movie depends on pure automotive momentum, and on our captivation by it, lest even a moment’s pause leaves time for viewers to consider that the whole thing is pretty ridiculous.
The problem with momentum, however, is that it begins to create its own form of stasis: By the time the movie actually arrives at its finest moment – a nearly two-minute single shot from the Mustang’s hood as it chases the villain’s van through dense traffic – you’ve become so numb to speed and sensation that you may barely notice.
That said, the long, unblinking shot is a terrific feat of unmanipulated, low-tech sensation, and it makes you wonder why the technique wasn’t used earlier and more often – it’s appearance so near the end of the movie makes the rest of the ride feel more pointlessly overwrought. And perhaps it works so well precisely because it’s so sparingly used. But the thrill of control amid mayhem gives this extended point-of-view shot its power, and it’s a pity the rest of Getaway is in too much of a rush to learn that lesson.