All good things must come to an end, and Ethan Hawke‘s glorious summer of 2013, in which he starred in the most universally beloved indie darling of the year (“Before Midnight“) alongside a bona fide horror movie hit (“The Purge“), has now come to an inglorious finale with his starring role in the ridiculously stupid car chase movie “Getaway.” As artless as “Before Midnight” was arty and plodding as “The Purge” was thrilling, “Getaway” is like slamming your foot on the gas while the car is still in park. There’s a whole lot of wheel spinning but it never really goes anywhere.
At least “Getaway” lets you know what you’re getting into immediately: the first ten minutes or so serve as an incoherent jumble that perfectly preps you for the rest of the movie. We see Hawke coming home to his apartment in an as-yet-unnamed European location (later it’s revealed to be glamorous Bulgaria); there’s blood on the floor, the Christmas tree is overturned (yes, it’s set at Christmas) and his wife is missing. Also it’s in black-and-white for some reason. This is intercut with Hawke, in a supercharged Mustang, racing down crowded European streets. If that isn’t enough audio/visual/Bulgarian overload, we’re also briefly brought up to speed (pun!) on why Hawke is driving like an asshole all over the place: apparently his wife has been kidnapped by an unseen villain with an iffy accent and Hawke has to do whatever he says or else said villain will kill his wife.
Anyway, a half dozen car chases later and the mysterious voice that sounds like Jon Voight instructs Hawke to pull into an underground parking garage, where he’s accosted by a young girl (Selena Gomez), whose character isn’t even dignified enough to be awarded with a name. Besides being the least convincing carjacker in the history of movies, with her chipmunk cheeks and Disney Channel spunk, her presence in the movie is so clunky and perfunctory if the filmmakers were to give her a name it might as well be Expository Plot Device. She stays in the car because Voight-Voice commands her to, and also because it gives Hawke someone to jabber with. Then it’s back to car chases.
There are more car chases in “Getaway” than probably the last three “Fast and Furious” movies combined (well, maybe not this last one), but they’re so punishingly shot and edited that it’s hard not to feel terribly bored. One of the many rich conceits of the film is that the bad guy has installed tiny digital cameras both inside and outside of the car, so whenever Hawke is dangerously driving through busy urban environments, the great thinkers behind the movie (chiefly director Courtney Solomon, a grade-Z action movie hack who was previously responsible for the borderline unwatchable “Dungeons & Dragons” movie) cut around to really awful digital photography. It adds an even more disorienting sense of chaos to sequences that have already been so chopped up and over processed that they barely constitute scenes as we classically know them. Solomon doesn’t give a shit about spatial relationships or the geography of any given scene, instead overloading each sequence with a lot of phony “intensity” that doesn’t actually amount to much (the drab Bulgarian setting doesn’t exactly help). There is as much visual clarity to these sequences as a glass of chocolate milk, and makes you appreciate sequences like the car chase from last year’s underrated “Jack Reacher,” which had an elegant, old school vibe that recalled the work of imprisoned action auteur John McTiernan.
Equally unclear is what, exactly, Hawke thought he was getting out of taking on the role. He recently compared “Getaway” to a tiny Richard Linkleter movie that nobody has really seen. “I was doing ‘Tape‘ in a car,” Hawke said, trying to convince himself and others that this movie won’t end up a huge blight on his career. Hawke looks uninterested to the point of almost being frustrated with the lack of material (in the same interview he admitted to suggesting a tattoo on his character’s hand, just so the audience would have something to look at during the twenty minutes devoted to watching him switch gears). You can tell how restless he is by the fact that he wears a hat for a lot of the beginning of the movie. Nothing says a movie star has given up like wearing a hat.
Gomez, for her part, doesn’t fare much better. Earlier this year she was part of Harmony Korine‘s gonzo “Spring Breakers” ensemble and she equipped herself well amongst the cotton candy-colored ski masks and twisted Britney Spears sing-alongs. In that film she exposed a steely toughness underneath her oven-fresh Disney exterior; you can tell that the filmmakers were trying to get a similar performance out of her here, but the material just didn’t allow for it. There’s no truth to “Getaway,” so all she does is posture and pose (both poorly). By the time she becomes a willing participant in the world’s dreariest road rally, your suspension of disbelief has all but snapped, and this is after her hacker whiz character has stolen a gag from the infinitely superior Keanu Reeves movie “Speed” (other movies it shamelessly rips off include “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “Taken“).
There is literally nothing redeemable about “Getaway,” besides the fact that, at 97 minutes, you won’t waste your whole day on it. What’s even more flabbergasting is that, in the film’s final moments, it seems to haphazardly try to set up some kind of franchise, with Voight slinking off into the night and Hawke and Gomez united to fight evil (or something) once again. It’s understandable that larger scale movies will want to spawn sequels, but this is about two degrees away from being a movie that premieres on Cinemax on a Friday night, sandwiched between two soft core porn movies with funny titles. “Getaway” is stuck in neutral. And that’s where it’ll stay. [F]