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NewCityNet I Forgive Michael Bay

Caution: Three Stooges ahead

By Ray Pride

JUNE 12, 2000:  If I have ever said a word to challenge Michael Bay's esthetic significance, let me suspend that judgment for the moment.

Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer's got a new bad boy, Dominic Sena, and "Gone in 60 Seconds," their stupefying, inert and disordered collaboration (with wise-ass screenwriter Scott Rosenberg), is, one hopes, the bottomest of barrel bottoms.

The original "Gone in 60 Seconds" (released in 1974) was one of my best childhood B-movie drive-in memories, and I must have seen it four or five times. H. B. Halicki was a Tennessee junkman who wanted to film the ultimate car chase. Clever, underfunded cracker entrepreneurism: this southern boy thrilled. I'm not a teenager anymore, and that movie might look like gutbucket amateurism if I watched it again. But still, I'd prefer it to the glum botch that's been tooled for this decade's audiences.

There is not one lyrical visual instant in Bruckheimer's movie, and it ought to traffic in gleam, careen, speed and soar. Nicolas Cage is Memphis Raines (so Nashville pours?) a car thief who must rekindle his love for his damaged baby brother, Giovanni Ribisi, by fulfilling bro's debt to an English madman-mobster by stealing fifty cars in four days (or seventy-two hours, as the film also calculates that duration of time). Good actors are trotted on and off--Robert Duvall, Frances Fisher as Duvall's mute, long-suffering wife, Vinnie Jones as a mute named the Sphinx, and, as a bit of arm candy left to languish in every frame she occupies, Angelina Jolie as a cipher dubbed Sway Wayland who might as well be mute.

Bruckheimer, Sena and Rosenberg's film is a vision of work and world and racial difference that slackens the jaw and leaves it there for almost two solid hours. While nicely locationed and sweetly cast, "Gone in 60 Seconds" is an almost intolerable travesty, with a tin-eared script, cack-handed camera placement and cutting, and generic music of too many varieties, including a few injections of Diane Warren sap. There's not a single good guy on screen: everyone is some variation of a lowlife, alcoholic felon cockroach. And their bluster: "He's running a real dark trip." Wow! Con talk! "[He] is a jackal tearing at the soft belly of our fair town and he's an asshole, to boot." Uh-huh. How many millions you get for that, Scottie?

Then there are the severe, relentless continuity errors: I can't think of a single shot where someone's expression, features or body placement is precisely matched to the previous one. Here's yet another anti-text to teach in film classes. Sena's first feature, the foul, unironic white-trash wallow, "Kalifornia," had at least the transgressive virtue of being disputatiously stupid and unpleasant. His second feature, after seven years of exile in commercials and the like, while professedly about irrepressible fun, is instead tarnished folly.

The stunts are berserk and incoherent, choppy and slapped-together. There is no spatial integrity. There are scenes of gaudy mayhem, including one where a stereotypical gang of black car thieves has their car ripped apart by a big-rig tow-truck. There is not a single wide shot to show us how this happens, what the stakes are, what the consequences might be. The lack seems less one of a talented storyboard artist or editor but the absence of a qualified director on set. Spatial incoherence in an action scene generally equals dramatic inconsequence. Simply, we have the spectacle of doubtlessly intelligent people slapping together an immodest entertainment for the wise-ass 14-year-old boy virgin in all of us.

There are movies to think on while blinking at the senseless glitter on screen, like draughts of latte laced with shavings of speed. I wanted to rush out and embrace a copy of "To Live and Die in L.A." after half an hour of a movie whose fights and flight are choreographed with all the grace of a "Carol Burnett Show" two-step for Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. And let's not even talk about the runaway rocket in a shipyard at story's end, which seems to have launched itself off the directors' DVD of "Armageddon."

And... put Angelina Jolie on screen with any human presence of sexual majority, and you want coitus, or at least, dance of glances, eyelines and double takes. Her impossible, pillowy mouth is an axiom of modern movies, an indicator of the luxury that is displayed but never understood within Hollywood product today. Gifted, conflicted, radiant and compelling on screen as few performers are, she is worse than wasted here. She's abused. Supposedly an auto mechanic, we see more of her as a moonlighting bartender in a tight tee and tiny skirt and as Cage's past and potential girlie. Does she get to drive, make a decision, play reindeer games? Noooo.

The few silences are not respite from tintinnabulation or from Rosenberg's inane word-gobs, only occasion for melancholy, fleeting thoughts of the ocean, the prairie, the desert, open spaces instead of empty pursuits. Fifteen minutes in, I would have walked out, but like everyone on screen and behind the camera, I need my paycheck.


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