Auto Ban


Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, bravely soldiering on after the death of partner-in-excess Don Simpson, lords over what is now the most emblematic of Hollywood summer styles: the demolition-derby impressionism associated with blockbuster-as-bazookas like The Rock and Armageddon. It’s no surprise that Bruckheimer has, for his latest feat, resurrected the quaint yet eminently mayhem-ready auto-porn genre of the late ’60s and early ’70s. (He’s dabbled in the past: The Rock was most memorable for its S.F.-chase Bullitt homage, and he co-engineered the Tom-Nicole racetrack meet-cute Days of Thunder.) The car-thief caper Gone in 60 Seconds puts the Bruckheimer aesthetic to its ultimate use. The movie doesn’t just look and sound like a car commercial. It is a car commercial.

Too lazy to do more than pick up exactly where the genre left off, the movie remakes a 1974 cult curio by the late HB Halicki. Plot, minimal to begin with, is distilled to its Bruckheimerian essence: men bonding loudly. When his doofus brother, Giovanni Ribisi, pisses off a thug, legendary car booster Nicolas Cage comes out of retirement for one final haul, reassembling the old gang to help him steal 50 cars in one night. Director Dominic Sena, perhaps better known for Nike promos than for his only previous feature, Kalifornia, provides the obligatorily baleful music-video hues but unwisely jettisons the 40-minute chase sequence for which the original gained notoriety. A little more road rage might have helped. The movie proceeds with dull checklist efficiency (how many hot-wirings can you get off on?) until the condensed climactic pursuit, when Sena finally adopts the spine-rattling, cornea-scratching rapid-fire tricks that Michael Bay (for one) would shoot a funeral with, and by then is so badly in need of a jump-start that he brings on a wrecking ball.

Both stakes and body count are low by Bruckheimer standards, and the film at times seems self-conscious about the artificially inflated presentation. (“Who gives a shit about grand theft auto?” someone demands at one point.) There’s some life in the supporting cast—Delroy Lindo and Timothy Olyphant as snooping detectives, Christopher Eccleston as a wild-eyed English villain—most of whom understand that acting is obviously beside the point. Angelina Jolie, as Cage’s nominal love interest, kills time with a form of lip exercise that involves simultaneously sneering and pouting, but cinema’s rich sex-and-cars tradition—from Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos to Cronenberg’s Crash—is otherwise ignored (or, to look at it another way, unsullied). The only sexual moment, with Nic whispering to Angie about carburetors, rivals the Liv/Ben/animal crackers horror in Armageddon. If there’s a romance to be found here, it’s the one between a boy and his stick shift.

The initials in Titan A.E.—about a boy and his Jesus complex—stand for After Earth. The planet is blown up sometime in the 31st century, and it turns out that Matt Damon is, not unlike Keanu Reeves in The Matrix or even Damon’s own Godlike creation Will Hunting, the Chosen One, who will save the human race from extinction. This feature-length sci-fi cartoon by veteran animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman is suggestive of nothing so much as Saturday-morning TV: 2-D characters frolic in 3-D CGI spacescapes, but the handiwork is uninspired, the digi-chicanery obviously expensive but bland, the New Age odor off-putting, and the reliance on inspirational Glen Ballard power ballads fatal.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2000

Archive Highlights