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MOVIE REVIEW: A car outshines the acting in 'Getaway'

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Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke star in "Getaway." (Photo: Warner Bros.)

GETAWAY

(PG-13)

1 out of 4 stars

Although the 2013 summer doesn’t officially end until next weekend, the August portion of it now comes to a close in much the same manner it began in late April: an incoherent and meaningless car chase flick with a silly, wafer-thin plot and breakneck action that is sometimes interrupted with inane dialogue. Compared to “Getaway” however, what went down in the sixth offering in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is downright Shakespearean in scope.

Unlike the similarly-titled 1972 Steve McQueen classic “The Getaway,” the lead character here (Ethan Hawke as Brent) is neither racing away from or toward anything in particular. He’s the puppet of a guy (Jon Voight credited simply as “the Voice”) who is ordered to drive recklessly through the cramped streets, alleyways and public plazas of Sofia, Bulgaria. Brent follows the Voice’s every random instruction to the letter because if he doesn’t his kidnapped wife will be murdered.

Why the Voice picked Brent and why his first chore was to steal a tricked-out Shelby Mustang Super Snake for the joy ride is the only thing interesting in the movie and though it is revealed early on, it would be better not to rob any possible interested viewers of the sole glimmer of actual thought. It’s not even really an original thought; this was the same premise for “Speed” where Dennis Hopper ordered Keanu Reeves to do the essentially same thing in daylight hours with a bus.

You might recall that Reeves was joined by the then little-known Sandra Bullock who did the driving, offered pithy quips and provided just enough estrogen to offset the testosterone. Although she doesn’t do the driving, Selena Gomez (as “the Kid”) assumes a Bullock-ish role as Brent’s unwitting co-pilot whose connection to the Mustang is as ludicrous as the rest of the story.

Continuing her level best to distance herself from her Disney past, Gomez wears a hoodie, brandishes an automatic pistol and delivers her lines with faux suburban gang-member sass. In the (not much) better “Spring Breakers” from earlier this year, Gomez — seen mostly in a hot pink bikini — displayed far more acting acumen and vulnerability. Even though her still cherub-like features will serve her well both personally and professionally in the future, Gomez (through no fault of her own) is horribly miscast yet still manages to walk away with her dignity largely intact.

As is usually the case with action flicks of this ilk, acting prowess and plot aren’t exactly the key points of interest for the target audience and director Courtney Solomon (“Dungeons & Dragons”) — knowing the real star of the movie is the Mustang — goes completely bonkers with visuals. In tandem with editor Ryan Dufrene, Solomon eschews anything resembling nuance or basic story structure by shooting everything in such extreme close-up, we can rarely figure out what’s taking place where and to whom.

For reasons that make no sense, Voight’s mouth and hands are all we see of him and well over half of the film stock is culled from mini-cams mounted in and on the Mustang. Toss in other jerky, hand-held footage shot entirely at night with no car scene lasting more than a couple of seconds and the final product serves no other purpose but to induce motion sickness. Even generally easy-to-please, die-hard gear heads and chase-scene lovers will find the production quality and choice of angles dumfounding and illogical.

“Getaway” earns its single-star rating for the first five minutes and last five minute sequences. The opening, presented with occasional black and white stock, depicts the kidnapping and Brent’s arrival at his ransacked home. Shown out-of-sequence, it is edited with care and contains many shots that last nearly as long as a CNN sound bite.

The closing is a chase scene but it is also one of the best anyone has ever conceived. Shown from the perspective of a single camera mounted on the dashboard of the Mustang and barely edited without a backing score, it shows a Mercedes SUV barreling down a four-lane Sofia highway at what looks close to 100 mph, running red lights and narrowly escaping catastrophic collisions. It shows talent, originality and an ability to slowly work the audience into a nail-biting lather. If the entirety of the movie was as good as this single scene, “Getaway” would quality as among the best movies of its kind in history.

Sadly, one or two scenes are not nearly enough to justify anyone forking over a nickel’s worth of their hard-earned entertainment dollar but that surely won’t stop some from doing so. Don’t say you weren’t warned. (Warner Bros.)