‘Getaway’ is joyously dumb action fare - The Buffalo News
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‘Getaway’ is joyously dumb action fare

I laughed harder at the “Taken”-meets-“The Transporter”-meets-oh-my-god-this-is-awful thriller “Getaway” than at any other film this summer. But “Getaway,” opening Friday, is not a comedy.

It is the worst movie I’ve seen so far this year, a stunningly inept end-of-season action flick that makes “A Good Day to Die Hard” look like “Apocalypse Now.” Even the title is a snoozer, and actually makes little sense in the context of the film.

“Getaway,” however, is not unwatchable; it’s too joyously dumb for that. It is the kind of low-budget, escapist fare that haunts the end of summer like bad preseason football, and but for 90 minutes, some will find it a pleasant diversion.

But make no mistake, it is bad, bad, bad, and its extended driving sequences – the first kicks in at around the one-minute mark – are among the least memorable in recent cinema.

Ethan Hawke stars as Brent Magna (!), a former professional race car driver who arrives home to a grisly Christmas scene: A trashed house, broken pictures and a missing wife.

His phone rings, and the voice on the other end – Jon Voight’s character is known as, yes, “The Voice” – explains that Brent must complete a series of increasingly silly driving tasks if he wants to see his wife alive, all at the wheel of a waiting Shelby Cobra, a car which is admittedly the coolest sight in the film.

These include driving on a crowded outdoor skating rink, crashing into a stage at a holiday gathering, driving into a bottled water truck … In other words, standard rush-hour situations.

Along the way, he is joined by a teenage girl played by Disney heroine/ex-Bieber girlfriend Selena Gomez – her character is known as, ahem, “The Kid,” which should make Charlie Chaplin turn over in his grave.

The Kid first appears to be a carjacker, but it turns out the Shelby is her car. It also transpires that she is a world-class hacker.

As the two follow through on the many strange tasks assigned by the Voice, they begin to realize what is at stake, and what to do about it. Mostly, that involves driving fast, stopping to chat, driving fast again and Hawke furrowing his brow.

Meanwhile, the Voice, seen only in tight-close-up, slurps a martini, grins and growls; think Dr. Claw on “Inspector Gadget,” but less robotic and more Voight-y.

That’s the premise, and it’s a yawner. But there is something interesting about “Getaway”: its cast. For starters, there is Hawke. The actor appeared in one of the season’s surprise hits, “The Purge,” and one of its best-reviewed films, “Before Midnight.” It’s a shame he is finishing summer vacation with this dud.

Gomez has entered the making-us-all-feel-a-bit-awkward phase of her career. She is a child star in transition, and this is a logical next step after the fluorescent adolescent nightmare that was Harmony Korine’s (brilliant, I think) “Spring Breakers.”

Gomez is still cherub-faced; she makes Miley Cyrus look like Joan Crawford. But she has a likable screen presence, and like her “Breakers” co-star Vanessa Hudgens, she has some tangible ability. In fact, Gomez and Hawke are believable throughout this unbelievable thriller.

Meanwhile, Voight is back in “Anaconda” mode, and clearly having a blast. His hammy performance actually fits nicely, despite its inherent absurdity. Coupled with Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” papa Jolie is having a nice year.

Oddly, with only about 10 minutes to go, director Courtney Solomon – the filmmaker behind the director of “Dungeons & Dragons” and “An American Haunting” – pulls a doozy of a sequence out of his cap, a long, unbroken shot from Hawke’s perspective that is bold and involving. So where was that go-for-broke style for the rest of the interminable 90 minutes?

“Getaway” is as bad as any studio release this year, but I did come up with a fun exercise: If you pretend “Getaway” is the fourth film in Richard Linklater’s “Before” series, and imagine Hawke’s Jessie is trying to save the life of Celine, the whole ordeal is infinitely more appealing.

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