Getaway from Me

For nearly half its length, I thought the current remake of The Getaway would be just one more failed thriller. The idea of casting Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the roles originally played by Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw seemed like a stunt, and the resulting movie a vanity production -- "they were a hot couple then, just like we are now." Ironically, at least one similarity does exist between the couples -- the women aren't nearly as compelling as the men. Unfortunately for this Getaway, Alec Baldwin isn't as charismatic as Steve McQueen; although he's got more range than his predecessor, he's simply not as interesting. McQueen would never have been so uncool as to make a teddy bear one of his props, as Baldwin did in The Hunt For Red October.

Neither MacGraw nor Basinger makes me want to go to the movies. MacGraw's essential shallowness made for a nice counterpoint to McQueen's manly depths, but alone she curdled right before your eyes. Basinger's case is more depressing. After a few promising early efforts, such as Fool For Love, she's been reduced to cheese. It's hard to imagine her making a movie in which she isn't photographed getting out of the shower at least twice, as she is in The Getaway.

But, even putting pre-judgments aside, the movie's opening scenes are absolutely dreadful. We meet the McCoys -- Doc (Baldwin) and Carol (Basinger) -- as they're practicing their marksmanship. The cans they're shooting at are all Tecates, and it's a Tecate bottle that Michael Madsen's Rudy twists the cap off of as he pulls up to the impromptu firing range. Okay, so they're trying to sell some beer. But the dialogue has less nuance, less personality, than the Bud Light ad in which an impostor talks his way into a beer-filled limo. As they discuss their upcoming heist, the characters are so flat that the actors don't seem to have given them a moment's thought before stepping in front of the camera.

The movie continues in this vein for some time. Director Roger Donaldson films a couple of action scenes competently, but the movie remains on the respirator, largely because the characters are cliches. Doc is the criminal with a code of honor. Rudy is the criminal without so much moral baggage. Carol is, well, the wife. The fact that she's handy with a gun doesn't make her terribly interesting.

The most annoying performance, however, comes from James Woods, whom I'm about ready to give up on. In the mid-'80s he was on the verge of greatness, and he may have broken that imaginary plane in Salvador. But in recent years he's been producing his own brand of cheese. Jack Benyon, Woods' gentleman rancher/mobster character here, may be the actor's all-time low. Woods looks lost when he tries to twist off a Tecate bottle cap and snarl at the same time. And who can blame him when he's trying to mouth words like, "I frequently mix business and pleasure"? The movie is an outright embarrassment whenever his dum-dum bullet of a character is on screen.

But to my considerable surprise, once he has met his fate (under hilariously unbelievable circumstances -- where were his bodyguards?), the movie begins to come together. The McCoy characters suddenly grow personalities. Benyon pulled some of his numerous strings in Mexico to get Doc out of prison (Doc was betrayed during another jail breakout... it's a long story), but he didn't do so without making Doc's statuesque wife pay the ultimate price. Now that Benyon is dead, and they're on the lam with millions and millions of his money, Doc has the luxury of becoming jealous and telling his wife he can't trust her. She answers appropriately -- she is sorry she slept with Benyon "because you weren't worth it," and suddenly the couple's relationship has given us something to chew on.

As the two run from the troubles that freedom and money can bring, both Baldwin and Basinger loosen up, and I finally felt on their side by the time of the big shootout between them, Rudy (who was in on the big heist) and the remnants of Benyon's men -- everyone is after the money the McCoys made off with. The movie strains credibility from time to time, and its ending is too soft to satisfy. It's neither moral nor amoral enough to be deeply moving (a la Reservoir Dogs), but you can watch without cringing.


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