After Dark Films is typically known for producing leanly budgeted horror-thrillers like Wicked Little Things, The Gravedancers and Crazy Eights. But After Dark founder and Getaway director Courtney Solomon ups the ante on the company’s latest release, an action-thriller that boasts names like Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, and to a lesser degree Jon Voight. Its story—of a former race car driver forced to commit crimes by an mysterious mastermind to save the life of his abducted wife—seems like Taken meets Speed with a dash of Fast and Furious. But for all Solomon’s ambition, he fails to make Getaway anything more than a pale imitation of its inspirations.
Ethan Hawke stars as Brent Magna, a former racer whose career was cut short by his penchant for reckless driving. But Magna’s defect is an attribute to Voight's mastermind, who plans to use the skilled driver’s deft handling of crazy fast cars to wreak all kinds of mayhem across the city of Sofia, Bulgaria. (A setting that screams "low budget" more than anything else.) A phone call from Voight's mysterious man leads Magna to steal a special edition Shelby Mustang Super Snake that aside from being armored and made for speed is also equipped with multiple surveillance cameras and a link to our unseen villain.
Far from refusing to negotiate with terrorists, Magna is quick to fall in line, though he cries out in despair as he plows his car through public thoroughfares, and sends cop cars into crashes that could easily be fatal. The tasks he’s asked to commit make little sense to him, but thankfully—for him and the plot—Magna is also forced to take a hostage, a teen gear head who like our villain is never given a name. For the sake of clarity, let’s call Gomez’s character The Kid. Anyhow, The Kid is not only knowledgeable about the car they are riding in—it's hers and was stolen—she is also a savvy hacker who dedicates herself into figuring out the bad man’s plan before it gets both her and Magna killed.
Getaway's concept is good, making for a lot of opportunities for car chases, witty banter, and wrapping it all in a potentially engaging mystery. But while the concept shows a clear appreciation for this genre, the execution shows a total lack of understanding of how it works. The dialogue is rough, with banter replaced by things Gomez’s understandably irate Kid repeatedly telling Magna “I hate you,” with him replying with a beleaguered delivery, “I know.” Beyond this, there really aren’t any stand out lines, but if you're upset about Gomez’s attempts to be grown-up on screen, you'll cringe at her repeated use of curse words.
The mystery of why this unknown villain is wreaking havoc is not something we get to solve along with our heroes. Screenwriters Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker don’t give us enough information to play along on that level. Instead, we get lots of close-ups of Gomez thinking hard, and then have plot points explained to us at length. But action movies can be forgiven crappy plot lines if they pay off in the action sequences, right? Sadly, Getaway fails here too.
Car chase stunts are not a place you want to skimp on the budget, but Solomon regularly shoots key stunts from just one angle. In the age of Justin Lin’s wildly entertaining Fast and Furious car stunts, this is just nowhere near good enough to justify Getaway’s ticket price. Essentially, Solomon cuts from inside the car’s cab, where Gomez looks scared and Hawke looks stern, then to a wide shot of one angle of a car jumping or swerving or crashing. The editing is at best as awkward as a “Toonces the Driving Cat” sketch, and at worst totally incoherent. Solomon intercuts tons of low-res footage intercut in the sequences that appears so blurry or overexposed that it felt better fit for YouTube than a massive movie theater screen.
It’s shocking that the car chase sequences are so unsatisfying, especially since Solomon rushes through any attempt at a traditional first act to get to them. Forget time to get to know your character and his world. We don’t even see our protagonist’s face for the film’s first five minutes, and aside from knowing his wife has been taken and he can drive, we know nothing else about him for maybe another twenty. Solomon cuts to the chase—the first car chase that is—and stacks up a potential body count before he gives us any opportunity to invest in the movie’s hero. He takes for granted that the audience might actually want to have some level of personal interest in the protagonist its following. And without this investment, the action scenes lose what little bite they might otherwise have.
Hawke is miscast as Magna, failing to read as a man of action/action hero. I appreciate that Hawke is stepping outside of his comfort zone, but lacking the effortless macho charm of Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson or even Vinnie Jones, Hawke struggles to bring life to a character that is decidedly underwritten. Sitting behind the wheel of a muscle car, he doesn't need to be brawny, but his cries every time he causes destruction undercut any kind of badass cred he might attempt. Instead, he feels like a defeated man bossed around for most of the narrative, first by the mysterious menace on the phone, then by Gomez’s mouthy gear head. Thankfully, the latter brings the proceedings some much-needed energy.
Continuing the persona remodel the former Disney kid started with a role in Harmony Korine’s outrageous crime-drama Spring Breakers, Gomez brings a steely earnestness to the role of the unnamed Kid. While Magna is quick to do whatever The Voice says to save his wife, The Kid is quick to question his authority from the moment she enters the movie—and car—with a gun, dirty mouth, and a hoodie that seems meant to show she has street smarts. The Kid’s rebelliousness and Gomez’s screen presence gives the movie a welcomed sense of spontaneity. She is definitely the best thing about this otherwise remarkably mediocre movie, but she’s not enough to make it worthwhile.
Getaway feels like a project that was undercooked, needing snappier dialogue, better shot coverage in its action sequences, and especially a heavier dose of macho charisma. With a mystery and lots of crashes, it’s a decent diversion. But at the end of a summer rich with stupendous action movies like Iron Man 3, White House Down, and The Wolverine, Getaway just can’t compare.