Let’s talk about Gone in 60 Seconds, Dominic Sena’s 2000 car racing flick loosely inspired by H.B. Halicki’s 1974 cult favourite of the same name. This remake turns 20 years old this year, and is – let us be honest – something of a forgotten work for screen audiences. It forms a chain of similar Nicolas Cage action films and thriller from the time, and after the more popular hits of Face/Off and Con Air (both 1997) it does fade into the distance somewhat.
The film is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, released during the peak of Bruckheimer’s producing career. In the decade between 1995 and 2004 he produced 19 separate studio-backed features, including Bad Boys, The Rock, Crimson Tide, Armageddon, Black Hawk Down, and Pirates of the Caribbean. From The Rock onwards many of these films followed a similar strategy that elevated them above the run-of-the-mill action fare Hollywood was producing – and it was all in the casting. Develop a high-concept action vehicle, build a screenplay with popular appeal, and then use a sizeable cheque book to cast the highest quality performers available. Before The Rock, Nicolas Cage was an eccentric star of comedies, independent film, and arthouse fare. His casting against type transformed his career, and in return he gave a bright and innovatively played new angle on genre traditions. As an actor he lifts the material, and transforms the work into something more entertaining than it probably ever had the right to be.
The Rock featured Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris. Armageddon had Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, and William Fichtner. Crimson Tide boasted Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. In this vein, Gone in 60 Second goes all-out with a cast including Cage, Robert Duvall, Will Patton, Delroy Lindo, Chi McBride, Christopher Eccleston, Giovanni Ribisi, and Angelina Jolie. Each actor in the ensemble have clearly been given a fairly broad latitude in developing their characters, and the result is something that – while unrealistic and openly silly – manages to entertain to a mass audience.
Cage plays Randall Raines, a retired car thief who is dragged back into the game when his younger brother (Ribisi) fails to complete an assignment for local crime lord Raymond Calitri (Eccleston). Over the course of 72 hours, Raines and his re-assembled team set out to steal 50 rare and luxury cars while under the close investigation of Los Angeles police detective Roland Castlebeck (Lindo).
The film very carefully follows a production aesthetic pioneered for Bruckheimer by the late director Tony Scott (Beverly Hills Cop 2, Top Gun). Wide-angle photography and sharp edits dominate, along with extensive colour filters, slow motion, and a bombastic musical score. Scott was an enormous talent at this kind of action cinema – check his work in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 or Man on Fire to see it at its best – and a generation of directors followed behind him, even supplanting their own styles to match the Scott-esque mise-en-scene. Here the task falls to Dominic Sena, whose 1993 thriller Kalifornia showed enormous promise. Gone in 60 Seconds was his second directorial work, and its arguable he has failed to direct anything particularly noteworthy since (Swordfish feels grossly over-worked, while Whiteout and Season of the Witch badly squander their own potential).
This is an enjoyable action film to a large extent, and it contains some genuinely outstanding high-speed car chases and many successful moments of comedy. The performances, however, are a little uneven – Ribisi’s character Kip has a posse of young thieves whose acting fails to match the leads, while the usually exceptional Eccleston could not look more uncomfortable as a Hollywood villain if he tried. Cage, as always, is an idiosyncratic delight, while Lindo’s straight performance as Castlebeck is the rock-solid style of work the character requires. Fans of Hollywood’s action excess have a lot to like here, however more discriminating audiences will likely find it a very middle-of-the-road work.
It does seem a shame, however, that such a sequel-loving industry never took the opportunity to give Raines and his team a second chance. Just a year later Universal Pictures took a punt on a similar high-speed racing criminal caper, featuring an ensemble of diverse characters driving around in a string of expensive sports cars. That film, The Fast and the Furious – which was absolutely an inferior work to Gone in 60 Seconds – spun off into what is scheduled to be at least an 11-film franchise. It had grossed close to six-billion dollars. It really is worth pausing to consider what debt one film ultimately owes to the other. In another world, Randall Raines could have run the distance like Dominic Toretto.