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Natty Bumper: Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie hunker down behind one of their high-priced, low-mileage trophy cars in 'Gone in 60 Seconds.'

Ticking Sound

The meter is running, but 'Gone in 60 Seconds' is in no hurry to climax

By Richard von Busack

THE REMAKE of the semi-underground film Gone in 60 Seconds has a lot of heart--that is, a heart like the one the Tin Woodsman got, ticking away mechanically to remind us that it's there. In the original Gone in 60 Seconds, a ring of car thieves in south L.A. have a week to round up 48 cars. It was made in 1974 for $1 million, or a 20th of Nicolas Cage's salary for the new version. The original was made at a time when people hated their cars. Gas prices were soaring, and the demoralized Detroit auto industry turned out lemony, breakdown-prone pigs. You'd think that today, with high gas prices and clumsy SUVs clogging the road, the Zeitgeist would be ripe for another car-crasher. But the new Gone in 60 Seconds is a fitful film, starting and stopping like an overheated Chevy Malibu until the far too short car-chase finale.

It's surprising how underpowered Gone in 60 Seconds is; the car chases are stalemated into typical L.A. traffic congestion. The only moment of exhilaration comes in the concrete channel of the L.A. River, where Cage pauses exquisitely over the button for the supercharger in a 1967 Shelby Mustang. Director Dominic Sena (Kalifornia) thinks that the subplots in this film matter. See, Cage's character, Memphis, isn't stealing cars for the fun of it--it's for his brother, man. A British villain named Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), who hates America, has Memphis' brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), as a hostage. Calitri's perfidy forces Memphis to come out of car-thief retirement.

Memphis agrees to bargain with Calitri, and in the next scene Kip is free for some reason, fixing Memphis his breakfast. See, Gone in 60 Seconds may sound like it's about stealing cars, but it's really about family. We see the meter ticking away at the base of the screen, but the film is in no hurry--at two leisurely hours, we have a lot of waiting, a lot of bickering and a lot of bonding to endure until the cars finally start racing.

One can't expect much from a screenwriter like Scott Rosenberg, of Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. He has no idea of how underground types might talk; he's not humorless, but he is as florid as cheap perfume and always sentimental in the style of an Ed Sullivan encore. Here's Robert Duvall as lovable old Pops, called Otto; that mute character, the Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), has one speech, but it's all wrong. And lead Angelina Jolie, as a car thief called "Sway," is basically sort of mooshy, even with her ropy blonde dreadlocks and alarming snow-white skin.

If anything, Gone in 60 Seconds memorializes the original version's director/writer/stuntman, H.B. "Toby" Halicki, who was killed during a stunt for his 1989 sequel, Gone in 60 Seconds II. His widow, Denice Shakarian Halicki, was one of the producers on this remake. Halicki's sense of hands-on filmmaking, his trusting that an audience would root for an antihero in tough times like the 1970s--all are gone. The remake's noble tale of gentlemen heroes stealing cars is a crock, and even the action- film audience should suss it out this time.

Gone in 60 Seconds (PG-13; 119 min.), directed by Dominic Sena, written by Scott Rosenberg, photographed by Paul Cameron and starring Nicolas Cage, Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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