Thanks to the improbable success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, car chase movies are apparently back in vogue. That’s still no explanation for “Getaway,” a laughably terrible grindhouse thriller masquerading as a “major” motion picture. This is a film that goes to the trouble of staging a certifiably insane amount of car crashes, wrecks, stunts and tricks and then buries them under a hyperactive visual style that ensures audiences can’t see a damn thing. It’s destruction porn run amok — not so much a movie as a 90-minute headache.
There’s a plot here, technically, but it’s really just an excuse for vehicular mayhem. Retired racer Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) discovers that his wife has been kidnapped and will be killed if he doesn’t follow every instruction from a shadowy villain (Jon Voight) who communicates only by phone. It begins with stealing a tricked out muscle car and Magna has a long night ahead racing through the streets of Bulgaria and causing chaos wherever he goes. He also picks up an unexpected passenger in the car’s owner (Selena Gomez), a feisty teen known only as “The Kid” who has a way with computers (and figuring out evil plots).
Director Courtney Solomon has already left an indelible mark in the field of epically bad cinema with 2000’s “Dungeons and Dragons” and 2005’s “An American Haunting,” but mostly he’s produced a lot of B-to-Z-grade horror and action films through his After Dark banner. “Getaway” is a joint venture with Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment, and the final Dark Castle film to be released by Warner Bros. (they’ve got to be thrilled to turn the schlock house over to Universal). But even veterans of trash cinema can do better than this.
Solomon has constructed “Getaway” as an action drama entirely at odds with itself. By banishing CGI and executing all the car stunts practically, he raises expectations for a gritty, grounded thriller. But everything that happens in the script credited to first-timers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker is so nonsensical it might as well take place on another planet. Gomez’s character can hack into any computer system with a few swipes on her iPad, and trick Voight’s all-knowing and all-seeing villain at her convenience. Hawke’s car survives every collision (and multiple explosions) with barely a scratch and evades any attempt at capture (even after he’s done untold damage and probably killed a few people, the local police seem remarkably reluctant to take him or the car out). And despite the endless damage, it’s all bloodless enough to earn a PG-13 rating.
It would be easier to overlook the ludicrous details if “Getaway” delivered real thrills or escapist fun. But instead of following in the lean mean chase film tradition, Solomon goes overboard with the footage he caught utilizing a reported 18 to 42 cameras per scene. With so many angles to choose from, there’s rarely a section of film that lasts longer than a few seconds. There’s no enjoyment to watching a chase scene when you have no idea where the characters (or cars) actually are or what they’re doing. A single bravura unbroken shot late in the film captured from the hood of the car illustrates the difference perfectly, but it’s a sad one-off better viewed down the road as a YouTube clip.
In the midst of all the pandemonium, the film does press pause a few times to allow Hawke and Gomez to emote. That’s welcome in the case of Hawke, who delivers a credible, vulnerable performance much better than the movie deserves (and much better than he provided in his other summer B-movie, “The Purge”). It’s less welcome for Gomez, who could’ve dialed back the character’s obnoxious snark — though it’s hard to blame any actor for anything that doesn’t work under these conditions.