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Summer Car Movies

Spoiler alert: Summer-movie discussion ahead. Beware. And skim, dear reader, skim.

By Novella Carpenter

Yeeahhh, another hot summer--perfect for sitting in a dark, AC'd theatre taking in action movie after delicious action movie. While last year brought us the brainless Fast and the Furious 2, Matrix Resomethinged and that movie with all the Mini Coopers--a veritable delight for a car columnist--I really had to pick and prod for some films that featured cars or car issues this year. I was surprised to find a pattern of almost progressive, lefty issues in the blinking box office!

To my mind, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was all about cars, though it only featured a couple of clips with autos: Moore driving an ice cream truck and footage of George W. truckin' in the sepia-toned Texas light. Moore blames Bush Family Inc. for making the world unsafe because of pure greed--oil-money greed. And well should the Bush family own up to its secret dealings with the Saudis, going to war for oil and corrupt corporate connections that now run this country. But when I looked at the map of the Middle East that Moore showed in the film, the wiggly line showing the giant oil pipeline through Afghanistan that makes Shell and BP executives drool, I felt sick, culpable in the whole mess. When we fly, we're giving the seal of approval for these wars. When we drive using petroleum-based fuels that cost pennies compared to the real cost (production, health factors, exploration and military to upkeep the supply), we have to own up to allowing this oil greed to exist and spread. I walked out of the theater ready to do something, anything, to alter my behavior.

The second movie with a car message was The Day After Tomorrow. The premise is simple: because of global warming, an ice age has been catalyzed, and with it come hurricanes that rip up apart Los Angeles, giant hail storms and the flooding of Manhattan. The special effects do rock, and the main premise--that scientists' warnings about global warming have fallen on deaf ears (sounds familiar) with cataclysmic results--is juicy. I must confess to a sick love of disaster films, and so I cheered loudly when the weather went all to hell on planet Earth. The bipartisan argument is that we must recognize problems and try to solve them. The main character, played by Dennis Quaid, is a climate scientist who drives a Prius. Throughout the movie, we are given small hints like these for ways to use less fuel: walk in downtown Manhattan during a torrential rain storm, not like the idiots stuck in traffic, for example. The movie ends on a glossy note (somehow the Earth heals itself) but it's obvious the message is: It's Up to Us.

I, Robot is a gorgeous action sci-fi movie with a Luddite theme: the evils of technology. But instead of beating us over the head, it focuses on characters and unfolds like a whodunit. The real star of the movie is product placement--specifically, Converse sneakers and Audi. You see, 30 years in the future, Chicago highways run underground, and most people let a computer guide them. Cars move so fast, humans can't react quickly enough. Of course, Will Smith as detective Del Spooner kicks his Audi into manual drive with regularity because, yes, technology is evil. These are the real future-think moments, when we see that perhaps cars will be whisked away and hung by their bumpers instead of parked or highway accidents will be cleaned up by giant roving robots. There are great car-chase moments, too, especially when Spooner hops on his motorcycle and does some gratuitous lane splitting. And there's Will Smith's shower scene--oh, my glorious world! Go see it!

I should also alert you to two upcoming cab-themed movies. One, called Collateral, stars Tom Cruise as an asshole killer and Jamie Foxx as a reluctant cabbie. It's directed by Michael (Miami Vice) Mann and comes out in early August. Another is Taxi, starring Queen Latifah and Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon. It features a loaded Ford taxi with Queen L. as the driver and I-Love-His-Eyes Fallon as a junior detective. Look for it in early October.


Novella will take some Gummi Bears and water, no ice; email her at novellacarpenter@yahoo.com.

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From the July 28-August 4, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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