02 March 2007

Movie review: Gone in 60 Seconds

So did you know that shitty Nicolas Cage movie from a few years back was a re-make? Me neither till P— told me about the original. As I was logging on to Netflix without taking the time to blink, he backpedalled a little: "Dude, I mean, it's not a good movie. I don't want you to rent it and get pissed at me. It sucks."

He's right. Sort of. The first hour is bad, and not so-bad-it's-good bad, just flat-out bad. It's a 70s B-movie and an self-produced vanity film. Now imagine the problems of both compounded. The last forty minutes are good, and not just so-bad-it's-good good, but fucking awesome. It's just one long car chase, but it flies by. The driving is terrific and the editing is well-paced.

H.B. "Toby" Halicki1 was an outsider auteur of the best kind. After making his fortune in the tow yard business, he decided he needed – needed – to make a movie in which to crash a few of his 400 cars. This is what separates the few Toby Halickis of the world from ordinary folks like you and me.

Halicki wrote, produced, directed and starred in Gone, did all the stunt driving himself and distributed the film himself once it was complete. Tragically, this proto-Jackie Chan self-reliance eventually cost him his life. After making two more films of a similar ilk, Halicki was killed in a stunt accident on the set of Gone in 60 Seconds 2.2 The sequel was never finished.

For a movie made explicitly as an excuse to wreck shit, there is surprisingly little action in Gone's first hour. Maindrian Pace (Halicki) and his cronies are established as bounty-hunter-type car theives who steal specific models to replace wrecks.3 They go out "disguised" in bad wigs and ridiculous fake moustaches that make them look sort of like the Beastie Boys in that "Sabotage" video.4 Early in the film Pace makes a deal with some South American gangsters to steal 48 high-end cars in a week for $200,000. The rest of the films revolves around the gang trying to fill this seemingly-impossible contract.

The acting is painful, the script worse. The cast are all non-actors essentially portraying themselves, presumably so that the roles wouldn't seem too challenging. Pace's brother is played by Halicki's brother, most of the cops are played by local poice officers.5 A cute idea, but it doesn't help. Unlike, say, Clerks, in which the amateurism is buoyed by a clever, precocious script, Gone features a solid hour of non-actors woodenly reading dialogue penned by a non-writer.

The turning point occurs when Pace must steal one last car (Eleanor, q.v. note 5 sub) only to be spotted by the cops, who were tipped off for reasons not worth explaining. He leads them on a high-speed orgy of destruction through seven counties of southern California.

There are several elements that make the chase great:

  • The driving is excellent. Halicki really could have made a living as a professional stunt driver (as opposed to say, writer or actor), and his skills are clearly on display in some of the wider shots. Some of the wrecks are pretty spectacular too.
  • The pacing varies quite a bit, which keeps it interesting. Rather than barrelling forward for forty straight minutes, the cars come to a full stop a few times as the drivers stare one another down for a few moments of who-blinks-first tension.
  • As the action drags on, the film cuts away to a few shots of the chase's aftermath: innocent by-drivers being bandaged up and hoisted on stretchers by paramedics. It's rare that a filmmaker makes a point of showing the human cost of an extended action sequence, and the shots somehow work as a counterpoint to the thrills and spills on display further up the road.
  • A shitload of cop cars get wrecked, always a welcome sight in any film. Apparently Halicki bought a bunch of them at an auction for $200 a pop for the express purpose of destroying them in his movie.6 Looks like he picked up a firetruck or two as well.
The ending, which I won't spoil, is a bit of a letdown. It's clever, but feels anticlimactic after what led up to it. But who cares? You don't watch a movie like this for the ending.

    Tangents & Clarifications
  1. For a more in-depth biography, check-out Halicki's Wikipedia page, but consider yourself warned: the text, a painful object lesson in the downside of Wikipedia's by-the-people-for-the-people ethos, reads like a desperate plea for the benevolent intervention of a sympathetic copy editor. [Return]
  2. The re-make, directed by the DP on Halicki's second film (The Junkman, 150 cars destroyed) and produced by the inimitable Jerry Bruckheimer, is referred to in all of Halicki's promotional materials as Gone in 60 Seconds 2000, though I don't recall it being marketed as such during its theatrical run. [Return]
  3. It doesn't make much sense in the movie either. [Return]
  4. Odds that this is merely a coincidence, and the Beasties have in fact never seen Gone: 13.2 million to 1. It took me a little while to figure out the whole disguise gimmick, by the way, because sometimes the thieves wear their wigs and appear to have awful 70s haircuts, whereas other times they remove their wigs and reveal awful 70s haircuts. [Return]
  5. It's telling that the only acting credit in the film's opening sequence is "Starring: Eleanor"; Eleanor is the nickname of the yellow Ford Mustang Halicki drives in the climactic chase sequence. And lemme tell you somethin', next to the rest of the cast, that car can act. [Return]
  6. Who knew you could just go buy old cop cars? Do they let just anybody do this or do you need to cook up a story as to why you need them? I want one. [Return]


Anonymous said...

ok, lets be fair here, that couldn't have been my exact quote because this is a favorite movie of mine. i'm sure i qualified it though because at the time i couldn't be sure if you were one of us or one of them. can't you imagine the throngs of people who would be pissed off if you rec'd this film to them. also, did you mention that Halicki stars in the film (?) because he does. IMO this film fits into a group of films that include Two Lane Blacktop and probably most of Sam Peckinpah's films, also most every film Warren Oats (who is a personal all-time favorite) has been in. ever seen Cockfighter? which brings up my answer to the ultimate question: if you were assembling the ultimate NFL football team, who would you pick to be QB, Brett Favre or Prince. the answer is of course Prince because he single-handedly bested every NFL halftime show ever inluding the Stones. also because he's far cooler than Favre. other members of the team would include a pre-pubescent Ricky Schroeder, Warren Oates of course, Bronson (Charles), John Candy, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, Kong, DLR, Buffalo, The Coloured Balls, Wally Gonzales, Randy Moss, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Joe Kapp (The Toughest Chicano), The Groundhogs, Klaus Kinsky, Gary Busey and son Jake, Bud Grant, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, and far too many others to name at this moment.

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Bjorn Randolph said...

Should have been noted: the quote in the first paragraph is indeed paraphrased. I have no specific recollection as to what P— actually said to me to qualify his recommendation, only that he warned me the movie was pretty low-rent, which it is.

Nonetheless, I believe my review makes pretty clear to whom this film might appeal. If it sounds good to you, rent it. If not, move along.

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