CINEMA / It's just take, take, take

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The Independent Culture
TO IMPROVE on mediocrity is a humble ambition, but still beyond the scope of The Getaway (18). Roger Donaldson's new film is a remake of Sam Peckinpah's 1972 heist movie which starred Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and for once the catch-all term 're-make' has a baleful accuracy. Peckinpah's film has not been re-

imagined, but, as far as possible, copied. The result is eerily familiar yet dismayingly different. The contours of the original remain - the plot, the dialogue, even some of the choreography in the action sequences. But its soul has gone.

What's most remarkable is the total faith, probably through laziness rather than reverence, Donaldson places in Walter Hill's serviceable, 20- year-old script - as though it were as inviolable as Shakespeare. Here is the same married couple, the unreal McCoys (this time Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger), working for the same corrupt businessman (James Woods), on one last robbery, but having their getaway plans again complicated by a psychopathic sidekick (Michael Madsen). They embark on more-or-less the same bloody trip to freedom. The quirkiest moments and detours in the original - such as the scene in which the heroes make an escape in a rubbish van - also get filched. Donaldson is like a burgler, who, not content with stealing the valuables from a house, takes the family knick- knacks as well.

There is not much to choose between the two versions' leading players. Alec Baldwin lacks the perilous, clear-blue gaze of Steve McQueen: there is a reassuring solidity to him. But he brings a new quality: the sense of a man weary of his own lethal expertise, whose talent is aware of the dim milieu in which it shines. As his wife, Basinger (Baldwin's real-life spouse) has an easier task, following the mesmerisingly feeble Ali MacGraw; and the part demands little except alternately to be worshipped and abused. But for one so Amazonian, Basinger is surprisingly good at playing vulnerability.

The problems are on the other side of the camera. Roger Donaldson, though he has worked in the action mode (No Way Out), is no Peckinpah. Compare the grace and economy of the original (especially in the opening sequence, where McQueen is in prison, and the whole, almost silent scene is elegant yet ominous) with Donaldson's long-windedness and confusion. Donaldson edits poorly, his every scene ending with pedestrian predictability. He even bungles the sequences stolen from the original. When Baldwin and Basinger are caught in the trash van, with the jaws of the disposer about to crush them, Donaldson destroys the suspense by over-elaborating.

There was talk last year

of The Fugitive resurrecting the action movie: its Oscar nomination for Best Film was seen as recognition of the importance of that market. But The Getaway shows just how dated the genre is if played straight. The Fugitive spiced its spills with humour, camping up the action and confrontations (likewise In the Line of Fire, and, if reports are accurate, this summer's blockbuster, Speed). But The Getaway is in deadly earnest about its deadly games. Without a trace of irony, it often looks crude and cruel. A sub- plot in which Madsen (less certain of his depravity here than in Reservoir Dogs) kidnaps a doctor and seduces his wife in front of him, is distastefully revelled in. The frequent car smashes and explosions are laid on with nihilistic relish.

There are changes from the original - even improvements. The heist is no longer at a bank but a race-track, and it is more ingenious and suspenseful (even if nowhere near matching Kubrick's The Killing, to which it owes much). The sex is more explicit, but no more erotic. The Texas location has been swapped for a more nebulous South. What's most surprising is how little attempt there is to re-imagine Jim Thompson's novel in today's America, to examine the consequences of its blithe immorality. Thompson is in vogue (After Dark My Sweet, The Grifters, The Kill-Off). And yet he may be the dullest of the noir novelists. He is the cruellest but the least painful.

Wim Wenders' ethereality tends to either delight or disgust. His new film, Far Away, So Close (15), is a freak-out or walk-out movie. Like 1987's Wings of Desire, to which it's a sort of sequel, it is a meditation on being an angel, and the problem of overseeing human existence without being able to intervene. Only this time Cassiel (the lank-haired, seedy Otto Sander) watches, with paedophiliac tendresse, a young girl falling off a ledge, and rushes in where angels fear to tread - the world. So we have The Angel Who Fell to Earth.

Wenders again flatters to deceive with a dreamily beautiful opening scene in which the camera floats through the pewter skies of Berlin. But he fails to create an interesting enough material world on which to pin his metaphysics. For much of the time he luxuriates in airy religiosity (with soupy echoes of St John: 'We are neither the light nor the message . . .'). Some way into the rambling 144 minutes, there are a few smart scenes in which Cassiel gets

involved with hoodlums, as if we'd slipped into an episode of Columbo (whose Peter Falk repeats his maundering performance from the first film). Wenders' suggestion, a characteristic piece of alienated whimsy, is that our understanding of good and evil has been reduced to the level of television cop shows.

But do Wenders' angels have anything more profound to offer? Their elevated view of the world, like the movie, is soft and complacent. Wenders' two films amount to a grotesque folly of self-indulgence. The idea would have best served a charming short (like Ken Russell's debut, Amelia and the Angels). As it is, the finest moments are incidental. When we see Mikhail Gorbachev (yes, the man himself) working at his desk with an angel hovering at his back, we shiver at the image of the insignificance of human power. And there are two fine songs. Lou Reed sings one in a nightclub, and we sigh when the scene finishes before he has. The other is the aching, lyrically witty title ballad, sung over the closing credits by Nick Cave. I wish I could say that it was worth waiting for.

Pedro Almodovar's Kika (18) is also an own goal for European cinema. There are traces of Almodovar's former mastery, in the verve of the editing and shot composition, but the gaiety has gone. The low point is a long sequence in which a porn star rapes a woman while a voyeur watches through a telescope from the block of flats opposite. Almodovar hides behind self- referentiality: 'This isn't a film - this is authentic rape,' says the heroine, who fronts a television freak-show parading deviant sexuality. But there's a heedless glee in the way Almodovar plays it for laughs, and in the excited drumbeat on the soundtrack. Afterwards we see the victim vomit, but the film doesn't encourage us to share her nausea. Almodovar's scope and wit are diminished - the camp cramped, the comedy tepid.

How to Be a Woman and Not Die in the Attempt (15) is a less-outrageous Spanish sex- comedy, but no funnier. It's remarkably flat. Carmen Maura mutters her way through a year of hassle from her husband (a man and therefore a monster). It's a drearily unedifying stream of envy and self-pity.

The western is not dead. But murderous blows are dealt it by Lightning Jack (PG), in which Paul Hogan makes nothing of the decent comic premise of being an outlaw with a dumb side-kick; and Bad Girls (15), which counters the sexism of the genre with a quartet of female heroines, but leaves us, sexistly, dwelling on the ladies' comeliness, so little else is there to admire.

Cinema details: Review, page 74.