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Getaway is ostensibly a car chase movie. In actuality, it’s a 90-minute montage of car wrecks, interspersed with Ethan Hawke shouting and one absolutely inspired shot.

More on that shot in a minute. But first, the montage that thinks it’s a movie.

Getaway takes place in the city of some eastern European country. It contains more car crashes than I’ve ever seen in a single film, blows up a power station and a train depot, and wrecks an outdoor market. So clearly there was a substantive budget to work with here.

The premise is gimmicky, but also holds out the hope for loads of fun action. Brent (Ethan Hawke) is a washed up race car driver who’s moved with his wife (Rebecca Budig) to start over. But he comes home one day to find the house demolished and his wife missing. A voice calls him on his cell, and orders him to steal a Shelby Mustang Super Snake – a truly gorgeous muscle car – from a nearby garage. Whoever the villain is, he’s outfitted the car with cameras on both the interior and exterior, and is tracking his unwitting driver’s every move. Brent must complete a series of tasks over the course of the night if he wants to see his wife again.

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This is hardly the height of artistic inspiration, but like I said: promising. Endless car chase action, with ever new scenarios, and chances for creative and directional flourishes. And director Courtney Solomon fails to take advantage of any of these opportunities.

I’m actually hard-pressed to describe Getaway as “directed” in any meaningful sense. The editor’s doing the work. Literally all of the film’s pacing, its sense of build-up and release, is built through cuts. At no point save one does Solomon use camera placement or length of shot to communicate geography or tension. His only new creative contribution is cutting from his traditional camera to shots to the cameras mounted on the car, in a riff on the “found footage” conceit.

The script fares no better. None of the tasks the villain sets for Brent are terribly creative, and most just consist of “drive here,” “wreck into that car,” “drive through this market,” etc. The effect rapidly becomes both boring and exhausting.

There’s some stunt casting involving Selena Gomez as the owner of the Mustang Super Snake, who winds up having to tag along on Brent’s adventure after she steals the car back. Gomez herself is perfectly serviceable as an actress, but the script presents her character as a bratty dolt: she continues to hurl abuse at Brent long after the reasons for his actions become clear. The writers also hand her character the most transparently ridiculous computer skills I’ve ever seen. She hacks the camera signals with her iPad, for God’s sake. And the logic of the villain’s entire scheme is similarly absurd, not to mention communicated via fancy computer displays rather than any actual filmmaking effort.

Now, that one inspired shot: during Getaway‘s climactic chase, Solomon just plants his camera on the front bumper of Brent’s car and leaves it there for a good two or three minutes. It’s incredibly visceral. You can feel the gear shifts – great sound design there – and you hunker down in your seat as Brent runs one red light after another. Unfortunately, that’s also it. Solomon only uses the shot once, and does nothing else with it. No variations, no attempt to use that camera placement to convey Brent’s driving tactics, etc. It stands as a testament to what might have been more than anything else.

If Getaway wanted to be the next great car chase movie – and that clearly seems to be what it’s going for – there are lots of creatively diverse fore bearers to build off of. There’s the car-versus-elevated-train creativity of The French Connection; the methodical approach of Ronin; the strange chase that slows to a crawl in The Way of the Gun; or the frenzied climactic chase in The Bourne Supremacy. The latter is closest to Getaway’s own heart, but unlike Getaway it manages to communicate a real sense of both geography and strategy.

In short, the the film learned nothing from any of them. It takes a promising premise and utterly squanders it with a shoddy script and absentee direction. I suppose the comedians who do those live versions of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will have a ball with Getaway some day soon. But otherwise, don’t waste your time.

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