Not every film has to line up perfectly with reality. In most cases it’s OK for action heroes to survive explosions, for sympathetic nerds to get the girls, and for alien technical systems to be affected by Earth-borne computer viruses. These are popcorn flicks, but even these kinds of movies have their limits when testing the willing disbelief of audiences. Getaway goes beyond that limit. While it provides high-octane thrills that will impress car and stunt enthusiasts, it’s too unbelievable for core audiences to stay engaged.
Set in beautiful Sofia, Bulgaria, former racecar driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) comes home to find his wife kidnapped, and instructions to steal a car – a Shelby GT500 Super Snake – with more directions to come. The car is equipped with several cameras placed both inside and outside to give a mysterious villain complete access to Brent while he drives. All Brent knows of this person is his voice whenever he calls to assign another task, which usually consists of creating havoc with the car, like driving through pedestrian-heavy parks. Seemingly by chance, Brent crosses paths with a feisty young woman (Selena Gomez) who is bent on taking the car, but ends getting embroiled in Brent’s dire situation. With law enforcement chasing him every other minute, and with the mystery man constantly threatening to kill Brent’s wife if he fails to comply, Brent is in for a long night.
Getaway offers an interesting and refreshing concept. The protagonists are trapped in a confined space, yet are free to move about just the same. The villain is both omni-present and unreachable at the same time. This underlying duality of situations offers some opportunities for thematic drama, but it’s never really exploited. Instead, Getaway is more about the car, which is interesting in its own right, because it has such a big role in the film that it almost becomes an actual character in the movie.
Unfortunately, having an ordinary car as an actor is rarely satisfying since the performance is as wooden and one-dimensional as audiences would expect. Even the stunts the car pulls off seem more subdued than one would expect for a car-centric movie. It maneuvers nicely, evading the police when it has to, but never in an awe-inspiring way, like a human actor would be able to, performing a similar feat. It’s actually the police cars that provide the most vehicular entertainment. They’re constantly crashing into walls, pillars, barriers or each other. One eye-popping shot has two police cars catapulting into each other in midair. It’s these rare moments when the orchestrated chaos reaches beautiful levels, but they are few and far between.
The two biggest issues that audiences will have to overcome are a too-simple story and action fatigue. There’s very little in the way of story for audiences to sink their teeth into. Beyond the initial setup, the story doesn’t evolve much, nor do the characters. Audiences learn very little about Brent’s past except through some forced expositional dialogue, and Selena Gomez’ character doesn’t even get a name. She spends most of the time just being a snotty know-it-all with little comprehension of how serious her situation is. For his part, Ethan Hawke mostly just mugs for the camera, grimacing and wincing as needed while he steers the vehicle. That leaves all the heavy lifting to the car. And while it’s nice to look at – and some of the sequences are impressive in their own right – so much time is spent watching frenetic car chases that they lose their impact. The movie even begins with a car chase. It’s difficult to care about whether the characters elude police, avoid a collision or make a deadline when moviegoers know nothing about them.
Surprisingly, Getaway is geared for a younger audience. While Brent is the obvious protagonist and has the skill to do what the villain wants, it’s Selena Gomez’ character that’s necessary for saving the day. Brent is largely clueless throughout the movie, so it’s up to Gomez to use her technology savvy skills to put the pieces together. She even gets to flaunt all of her attitude, flipping off adults and waving a gun around. It’s teenage escapism, offering a cinematic reality of control that young viewers lack in real life. And that’s probably the only reason to watch this movie.