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August 31, 2013

It’s often lamented that Hollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with video games. Video game adaptations have been almost universally awful, with the one exception that springs to my mind — Silent Hill — departing wildly from its source. But just as the most Lovecraftian movie was not a Lovecraft adaptation, it seems that someone may have figured out how to make a video game movie by not basing it on any actual video game. For, indeed, Getaway plays out like a game in the spirit of the later Grand Theft Auto entries, and for all its silliness it does a damn fine job as an action movie.

The plot is all but nonexistent. A former race-car driver (Ethan Hawke) returns to his apartment in Sofia to find his wife has been kidnapped. A mysterious voice on his phone (John Voight) says that if he wants to see her alive, the driver must go to a certain parking garage, steal a certain tricked-out, up-armored Super Snake, and then do whatever the man on the phone directs. Yes, right away we have a classic Damsel-in-Distress trope as a cheapo substitute for an actual story. In case you’re somehow unaware of how prevalent this approach is in video games, I refer you to the first three parts of Anita Sarkeesian’s excellent video series Tropes vs. Women. Oh, and if this brings out the army of her raging detractors, thanks in advance for all the traffic.

Back to the movie, which kicks off the first of many episodic “missions” with the driver’s escape: a fast, smashy blast through the Bulgarian streets to shake off any following police. In case it’s not clear, the man on the phone reminds us that if the driver is ever apprehended by the cops, it’s game over.

The missions seem arranged both progressively — the earliest ones act as in-game tutorials, with lessons learned coming in handy in later missions — and as part of some overarching master plan. In between, we get “cut scenes”, or even minigames that tie the larger missions together. An early one of these scenes introduces the car’s rightful owner (Selena Gomez), the international finance version of a military brat, who brings some techy plot magic that at least manages to be less cloying than Lex from Jurassic Park.

Like I said, the plot is all but nonexistent. Gomez is, well, pretty terribly miscast here; her baby-smooth skin and pearlescent lipgloss doesn’t sell “knows her way around a crankcase” at all. Hawke, though can do this role in his sleep, and Voight strikes a great mischievous tone as the unseen villain.

But, really, none of this matters. The movie knows full well that — like the video games it imitates — its nominal story is a thin excuse to smash cars into other cars and infrastructure over and over and over again, with some big explosions thrown in for good measure. The screenwriters aren’t even pretending to take this seriously — you can’t write exchanges like “Don’t go for it!”; “I’m gonna go for it!” as anything but camp — and if we’d be well-advised to follow their lead and watch the action, which is pretty great.

I’m not going to say something silly like calling this the best car chase movie ever. The cinematography and editing fully embrace the chaotic trends of the day, which were themselves supposed to have been inspired by video games, though there’s debate over how accurate that is. It’s not even a racer-chaser as much as it is a demolition derby, which takes it out of consideration with the likes of Bullitt and The French Connection.

But I have to admit that, as stupid and even problematic as the story and dialogue are, it’s a lot of fun to watch Courtney Solomon smash all that metal together like we all did with our Hot Wheels. From the spectacular gasoline fireballs to the stunning, long-take chase sequence at dawn — recalling C’était un rendez-vous more than anything else — this is fun, and as anyone who’s played video games knows, fun doesn’t always have to be smart.

Worth It: if you like old-school smashy video games, sure.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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