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D: Courtney Solomon / 90m

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Rebecca Budig, Bruce Payne, Paul Freeman

It’s Xmas time in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Ex-racing driver Brent Magna (Hawke) arrives home one evening and finds signs of a violent struggle, but no sign of his wife Leanne (Budig).  His mobile rings.  The voice of a man he doesn’t know tells him if he wants to see Leanne again Brent must do as the man says, beginning with picking up a specially modified car from an underground garage.  Once he’s behind the wheel, Brent is set a series of tasks, all of which see him causing vehicular mayhem, and being continuously chased by the Sofia police.

During a breather, a young girl – whose name we never discover – tries to carjack him but he overpowers her.  The voice tells Brent to ensure she stays in the car as she will be useful… and so begins a cat-and-mouse game in which Brent and the girl try to work out the voice’s plan and then thwart it.  The girl proves vital to the plot – although her connection to the car is ham-fisted and beyond contrived – while Brent tries to regain his confidence as a driver after losing it on the racetrack (he’s supposed to be starting a new life in Sofia, but as what we never find out).

Getaway is by no means a cerebral thriller, far from it.  It flexes its muscles and makes its intentions clear within the first ten minutes as Brent is forced to drive at speed through a park full of Xmas revellers and shoppers, hitting an assortment of stands and displays but miraculously missing everyone in sight.  This is a blunt force trauma movie, with a car as the object of mass destruction.  Brent collides with an abundance of police vehicles, he outruns them, he causes them to crash – the regular laws of mechanical physics are blatantly ignored as usual as cars flip and crash with tiresome abandon – he is never followed by a helicopter, and on the one occasion when he encounters a roadblock, he bluffs his way out of it in about five seconds flat.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, this is one of those movies where plot, characterisation and a logical  sequence of events are of no importance because the action is the thing, and the only thing.

Getaway - scene

So, are the action sequences exciting, varied, above average for this sort of thing?  The answer is: once, in a sequence that involves Brent outrunning three henchmen on motorbikes.  It ends in a train yard with the unlikely destruction of a marshalling platform that explodes in sections giving a slight rush as Brent speeds away from the increasing inferno.  Aside from this one sequence, Getaway‘s action choreographer, the well-regarded and experienced Charlie Picerni, fumbles the ball too often to make sitting through Brent’s efforts to remain at large anything other than a chore.  They almost make you want to listen to the terrible dialogue that co-writers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker have hacked together.  Add to all this an ending that feels like it’s been lifted from a discarded Mission Impossible script and you have a truly dispiriting ninety minutes.

Solomon, who gave us the equally execrable Dungeons & Dragons (2000), directs with all the flair of someone who’s learnt all he knows from kids cartoons.  The film is clumsily edited as well by Ryan Dufrene, with images flicking between the video feeds from the car and Yaron Levy’s uninspired photography, as if further tension will be added that way.  On the performance side, Hawke is so lacklustre it’s hard to believe he also appeared in the sublime Before Midnight this year, while Gomez, continuing her transition from annoying teen actress to annoying adult actress, fails to inject anything remotely approaching an emotion into her role, and handles the exposition with the grace of someone speaking in a second language.

It’s only the location work – recognisably Sofia and not filmed in a Canadian location masquerading as same – and the silky menace offered by Voight that elevates Getaway from the mire it inhabits for most of its running time.  Without these two positives to save it, Getaway would be a complete waste of time.  Action movies can be as dumb as they like as long as they deliver the goods action-wise; if they don’t then what’s the point?

Rating: 4/10 – car chases are always a good draw, and when they’re done right – BullittThe French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A.Ronin – they can make a movie that much better, but when only one sequence out of a dozen or so works, someone should wave that checkered flag and call time; it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t do so here.