The Ever Elusive Eleanor
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Cars are cool. I know, yes, that is absolutely a bold statement (and that, right there, was sarcasm). It is worth noting, though, because cars are cool and Hollywood does understand this. You can find any number of films that celebrate, and build, on "car culture", finding massive success at the Box Office because, darn it, cars are cool. Of note, most of those movies are in the The Fast and the FuriousStarted as a film about undercover policing in the illegal street-racing community, this series has grown to encompass a number of different genres and become one of the most bankable franchises in the world. series, because if any film franchise was built to make cars even cooler than they already were, it's that one.
Mentioning the Fast and Furious series, though, does raise an interesting point of its own. When it was released in 2001, the original The Fast and the Furious was dinged by some for being, basically, a rehash of 1991's Point Break. And it is, intentionally or not. That's not necessarily a bad thing as it uses that familiar structure to tell a cool movie about cool cars, and it works. But, when you look back at the history of films, even within that era, you find another curious influence on The Fast and the Furious: Gone in 60 Seconds from 2000.
For those that don't pay attention to failed Nick Cage vehicles, Gone in 60 Seconds was a lifeless remake of the 1974 film of the same name. It features a found family of car thieves (who are also deep car enthusiasts) coming together to pull off one last caper to save one of their own (and, in the process, make a lot of money). It has cars, driving, barbeque, and girls in hot, tight costumes (well, at least one). It's glossy, it's slick, but it's also shallow and rather hollow inside. If that doesn't sound exactly like the template for the early Fast and Furious movies, I don't know what does.
Now, I'm not saying that the makers of The Fast and the Furious saw Gone in 60 Seconds and said, "hold my beer." But the parallels between the movies are significant enough that I can't rule it out either. It's entirely possible that some of the people working on The Fast and the Furious saw Gone in 60 Seconds while developing their own movie (which, reportedly, had been in the scripting phase since 1998) and decided to crib some notes. I mean, say what you will about the Gone in 60 remake (and we'll have plenty to rip apart), it does look cool.
In the film, former car thief Randall "Memphis" Raines (why he's called "Memphis" is never explained) is brought back into the life to help out his kid brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), after Kip makes a bad deal with a very bad man, Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston). Calitri, a gangster running the streets of L.A., has a deal with some South Americans to deliver a fleet of 50 high end luxury and sports cars, but he needs those cars by the end of the week. Kip and his crew were supposed to steal those cars, but when one theft goes wrong, it leads the cops to their warehouse where fifteen of the fifty (all of the cars the gang had so far stolen) were kept. That sets the crew back at ground zero, and with that, Kip's life is suddenly on the line. Calitri doesn't like to be disappointed.
Dragged back to the life, Memphis immediately sets about pulling back together is own old crew: Angelina Jolie as Sara "Sway" Wayland, Robert Duvall as Otto Halliwell, Will Patton as Atley Jackson, Vinnie Jones as "Sphinx", and Chi McBride as Donny Astricky. These old school thieves have the classic skills needed to boost the classics on the list, but it's with Kip's help (and they help of his crew) that they can tackle the newer, high tech cars. They have four days to scope out, plan, and grab the cars to make the deadline or Kip is dead. Oh, and they also have to deal with Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) who is on their tail for the thefts and plans to put the whole crew away for a long, long time... once he gets the evidence.
When we're comparing the two films (and I do think a comparison is illuminating in this case), you can see why Gone in 60 Seconds struggled at the Box Office while The Fast and the Furious was a hit. The main issue Gone in 60 has is that it's hard to care about the plight of the characters. The leads in Gone are all car thieves, career (or former) career criminals who easily slide back into the life because it's easy and fun. Most of them didn't go straight because "crime is bad" but, instead, got out simply because they lost the taste for it (but easily get that taste back when needed). And their situation is entirely of their own making. While the film tries to justify their choices because, "Kip could die," that's Kip's fault. He took a deal with a bad man for bad reasons. Compare that to Fast's Brian, a cop on the tail of bad guys, who wans to bring down a criminal outfit. The motivations are night and day.
There's also the fact that Gone in 60 lacks likable characters. The Fast and the Furious slow builds its relationships, letting you get to know its lead, Brian, along with the crew led by Dominic, giving each of them fleshed out stories and motivations. In contrast, Gone in 60 Seconds defaults to stock characters with simple traits all so it can get to the action faster. It's interesting because this film really wants us to invest in the caper but it fails to get the one thing needed to make us really care about a caper: the characters. You don't invest in the antics if you don't like the characters, and this film does nothing to really develop the characters in any meaningful way. Instead we get, "cool driver", "hot girl", "black guy", "old guy", "the hitter", and more. That's as much as any character has for development, and then it's time to steal cars.
Now, in fairness to the film it does get one thing right: it's very slick. This is a film that manages to play up the glossiness of the cars, making them look shiny and clean. Without delving deep into car culture (even though you get the vibe the director, Dominic Sena, wanted to) the film is still able to make the cars look desirable. It plays up the love of cars, how sweet it is to own hot cars, and it even makes the act of stealing and driving the cars look cool. The film is able to play up that gloss to perfection such that, at least when it's focused on the cars themselves, it looks great. It's easy to invest in a hot and sexy Ferrari. They're their own special effect.
At the same time, though, the actual driving of the cars is lacking. This isn't the worst action for the era I've ever seen, but it's pretty clear that director Dominic Sena doesn't have the same knack for action direction as, say, Michael Bay. He's not even a decent, sub par Bay. He's maybe, like, one-eighth Bay at best. The car stunts, such as they are, put too much emphasis on shots inside the vehicles and not enough with the cars actually on the streets. Sure, some of that is likely because the production team didn't want to damage their vehicles while driving them, but it does leave us with only the impression of action happening and not the actual adrenaline rush that should come with it. Close cropping, too much editing, and not enough real oomph affect most of the car stunt work of this film (and the few fist fights we get as well). It's clear Sena saw the action films that came from the Bay school of direction but didn't really learn the lessons Bay was teaching.
It's especially depressing when you consider that the original 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds is considered one of the greatest car action films of all time. Oh, sure, it was made on the cheap, and it has stilted acting and a threadbare story. But what that original film brings to the table is an entire last act (40 minutes) of one long, action-packed car chase. That film knew what people wanted from a car film: car action. It delivered. the 2000 remake does not. It's a slick (and overproduced) film that banks more on the charm of the actors (not the characters, the actors) and some slick looking cars, but it fails to bring anything of actual meaning to the table. It wants to be a caper, but it's outclassed by films like 2003's The Italian Job and 2001's Ocean's Eleven. It wants to be a loving car film, but it can't hold a candle to The Fast and the Furious. The films that came soon after did everything this movie wanted to, but better.
Maybe, if this film had come out a couple of years later, it could have been good. It would have cribbed ideas from other, better films, and put them together into a better produced package. But I think this film was destined to be the train wreck (or car wreck) we got. It feels like a remake produced by Hollywood bean counters. "Rent some cool cars, throw in some hot stars, and you've got a four quadrant production." The film did do reasonably well at the Box Office, pulling in $237.2 Mil during its run. But when you factor in its original budget, upwards of $103 Mil, and advertising costs on top of that, it's actually estimated that this film lost $90 Mil (at least). Compare that to the original 1974 film, made for $150k and it then went on to make $40 Mil. That's the kind of return on investment that's hard to beat. Instead of slick production and hot stars, maybe next time Hollywood should give us what we really want: solid action.