Grade: D+

When even producer Jerry Bruckheimer, King of the Trite and
Brainless Action Film (“The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Armageddon”)
admits that in remaking Toby Halicki’s 1974 cult favorite
everyone realized that some complexity needed to be added, you
know that the earlier flick must have been incredibly vacuous.
And of course you’d be right: the original (Halicki was killed
while preparing a stunt for a sequel in 1989) is remembered for
virtually nothing except the fact that it boasted a car chase
that went on for a full forty minutes. But this retooled model,
despite the best efforts of scripter Scott Rosenberg (who was
also involved with “Con Air” and “Armageddon”), remains a
wafer-thin contrivance, with nothing more on its mind that
providing an adrenaline rush to the intellectually undemanding;
and the strictly workmanlike direction of Dominic Sena doesn’t
give it any heart or distinction. “Gone in 60 Seconds” is a
cold, calculated piece of summer-movie machinery, and one that
isn’t much fun to watch.

In Rosenberg’s rewrite, the plot centers on legendary car thief
Memphis Raines (Nicolas Cage) who’s lured out of retirement in
order to rescue his younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi),
who’s followed in his sibling’s footsteps but with far less
success. In order to save young, callow Kip from a death
threat from his ruthless employer Raymond Calitri (Christopher
Eccleston), Memphis finds himself forced to try to heist fifty
vehicles in a single night–all of them, of course, rare and
expensive items. In order to succeed he recruits a crack team,
including his grizzled mentor Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall),
his ex-girlfriend Sara Wayland (Angelina Jolie), and a couple
of cool dudes called Kenny and the Sphinx (Chi McBride and
Vinnie Jones, respectively), as well as Kip and his own gang.
The rest of the flick tries to squeeze some tension and
excitement out of their attempt, employing lots of pseudo-hip
dialogue, splashy visuals, lowbrow humor, elaborate car chases
and sporadic bursts of sappy sentiment in the process, while
intercutting the dogged pursuit of the miscreants by hard-
boiled but fair cop Roland Castleback (Delroy Lindo) and his
boobish partner (Timothy Olyphant).

Needless to say, the gang, despite some stumbles and close
calls, wins out in the end (shaggy Kip even shaves to indicate
that he’s been turned from the Dark Side by the experience);
the filmmakers aren’t so lucky. Though slickly made and
generating periodic bursts of energy, the picture is curiously
slack apart from its decently executed but decidedly obvious
action set-pieces; the scenes of exposition and conversation
are handled dully, and since the characters are all stick
figures, one can never really develop any concern for Memphis,
Kip, or “Sway,” as Ms. Wayland is affectionately called, or for
any of the secondary figures either. Even the essence of the
story–the systematic theft of the various cars–is poorly
handled. There’s little sense of the complexity or difficulty
of the operation; members of the crew just use various miracle
mechanisms to locate the requisite vehicles, pop their locks
and drive happily away. To be sure, a few chases occur,
but most of them involve a rival car-theft ring who are
depicted as Keystone Krooks, as it were; it’s only toward
the close that an extended pursuit is staged, and it seems so
familiar (with hints of “The French Connection” and “Terminator
2,” among others) and spottily edited that it doesn’t work the
magic the makers clearly intended. It may also be noted that
the picture never raises any moral issues involved in the life
of stealing on display here; we’re just supposed to identify
and sympathize with the career criminals who serve as its
heroes, despite the destruction and pain they cause others.
(One of the cute touches in the press notes is that they
tell us about the first car owned by each cast member and
high-ranking member of the crew; it would have been useful
if they’d also included some comment from the individuals
about how they would have felt had their precious autos been

Given the thinness of the script, it’s hardly surprising that
the cast fares poorly. Cage’s performance is all ticks and
flourishes without any solid grounding–but what could one
possibly expect of anybody playing a character who talks
lovingly to automobiles (when Memphis caresses a much-loved
model with soothing words, it’s the most ridiculous stuff
heard onscreen since Robert De Niro rhapsodized about thinking
like fire in 1991’s pallid “Backdraft”). Ribisi is anonymous,
and Jolie is required to do little but look sluttish, something
she manages with apparent ease. Eccleston, as the Brit heavy,
seems even more lightweight than Dougray Scott was in “M:I 2,”
and Robert Duvall does the same crotchety routine that he
used in the similarly slick-and-trashy “Days of Thunder” back
in 1990, and with equally dismal results. McBride and Jones
get some easy laughs, and Lindo does his tough guy shtick
professionally. But the sole member of the cast who seems to
get anywhere beneath the surface is Will Patton as an old
partner of Memphis who’s now working for Calitri; he’s in only
a few scenes, but he manages to bring a hint of pathos and
nobility to the scraggly fellow nonetheless.

So this spiffy, buffed-up 2000 version of “Gone in 60 Seconds”
might gleam like a showroom star, but it turns out to be the
same rickety old jalopy as the 1974 model; a sparkling
new coat of paint may have been slapped over the deep-rooted
rust, but the crate still idles badly and quickly runs down when
pressed. By the halfway point much of the audience will be
wishing that the title had referred to the running time; but
it actually logs in at a full two hours, unconscionable given
the flimsiness of the material and the shallow efficiency with
which it’s been mounted.