Getting away with daylight robbery

Gone In 60 Seconds (15) | Director: Dominic Sena | Starring: Nicolas Cage, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Vinnie Jones, Christopher Eccleston | 118 Mins
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The Independent Culture

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

There is a moment in the latest Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle, Gone in 60 Seconds, when a police officer scornfully dismisses a colleague who's been hunting a car thief. "Nobody cares about auto theft," he snarls.

Curiously, the film doesn't seem to care either, though stealing cars is pretty much all it's about. In moral terms, the question simply doesn't arise: the owners of the stolen cars are either invisible or assumed to be so rich that the loss would barely impinge. In legal terms, the police are portrayed as forever playing catch-up, less guardians of justice than laggardly opponents to be out-raced.

Which leaves just the criminals. They care very much about auto theft but not in a way that will alienate an audience, many of whom will be car owners themselves. The film's master car thief, Randall "Memphis" Raines (Nicolas Cage), has been not so much characterised as positioned, his crimes mitigated by two different but related factors.

Having sworn off car "boosting" some years back to pursue a more congenial career in go-karts - you know, for kids - news reaches him that his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) has got in too deep with a high-stakes gang; unless Memphis can steal 50 specified cars within three days, his kid brother gets it. The blood debt would be enough to rouse him from retirement, of course, but there's also a feeling that Memphis owes it to his legend as the champion booster - he's the only man who can steal 50 cars and get away with it. His nerve and know-how, we are led to believe, are the gifts not of a criminal but of an artist.

The traditional fixtures of the Bruckheimer juggernaut are soon slotting into place. As Bruce Willis did with his deep-core drillers in Armageddon, so Memphis assembles a crack team of thieves in preparation for a one-night strike: he wants the whole lot gone in... er, eight hours or so.

His crew includes ex-girlfriend and mechanic Angelina Jolie, now a blonde with hair extensions, Robert Duvall as a chop-shop veteran who helps Memphis with recruitment, and our own Vinnie Jones as a taciturn enforcer named Sphinx. The role is something of a step back after Jones's turn in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, requiring minimal exertion and even fewer "verbals" - a bit like 90 minutes on the subs' bench at Wimbledon FC, only with bigger pay cheques. It certainly beats working for a living. The rest of Cage's team parcel out the low comedy between them, and it doesn't come much lower than rummaging through dog poop in search of car keys which the crew's mutt has swallowed.

Once the mood of comradely machismo has been established, there's not much for director Dominic Sena to do other than tick off the Bruckheimer signatures; there ought to be a job for a "dust wrangler" in his movies, since every one of them features a shot of light filtering hazily through slatted blinds. This used to be a noirish shorthand for moral murk but now seems to have been co-opted as an all-purpose atmosphere enhancer: that it's used here in a diner-scene reunion between Memphis and his old ma suggests how little tension the shot now carries.

The incidental music by Trevor Rabin is barely distinguishable from his last Bruckheimer outings on Armageddon and Enemy of the State, the basic idea being to crank up every whining guitar riff and drum roll as if you intended to blow the Marshall stacks somewhere into the middle of the next county. Add to this the turbo-charged roar of luxury sports cars and you have one of the loudest movies of the year.

Not to mention one of the laziest. Based as it is on a little-known Seventies movie of the same name, one might have assumed the film-makers would put a little effort into the refit, sprucing up the bodywork, overhauling the engine, checking tyre pressure, um, renewing the tax disc - supply your own automotive metaphor here. Yet, for all its sound and fury, Gone in 60 Seconds is scrap metal; there's nothing here, not a character, an incident, a line, that has a ring of conviction or originality.

Even its quirks feel mechanical, like the complex which Memphis supposedly harbours about a car nicknamed Eleanor (a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500, in case you're interested), the one vehicle he's never been able to boost. All the signs are posted for this to be the last car on which the operation hangs, and that Memphis will have to get behind the wheel and tear along the freeways in his effort to meet the deadline. This is meant to be the big set-piece, the greatest white-knuckle ride since Sandra Bullock carved up Los Angeles in Speed, and guess what - it's a fizzle.

Why? First, because it is too selfconsciously played as a stunt, which the film-makers can't help overselling to the audience. Second, one has no sense of Cage's heroics actually meaning anything - he's bamboozled the police, for sure, but the villain who has extorted this singular payment from him is so obviously unappeasable that the whole deal looked an irrelevance from the start. The sleazeball in question, as if you didn't know, is British, a Northern thug played with a double-serious snarl by Christopher Eccleston; his goons similarly hail from the uncool regions of Britannia. It seems that as long as Hollywood needs vicious hoodlums, child murderers or, indeed, anyone else who combines sadism with incompetence, a certain strain of British actor will never be out of a job. If Eccleston ever has cause to regret the paltriness of his role, he shouldn't worry; the memory of it, like the rest of this glossy trash, will be gone in rather less than 60 seconds.