Getaway: A Never-Ending Car Wreck

The dim, childish Selena Gomez vehicle may be the summer's worst movie.
Warner Bros.

Why don't you go away, Getaway, stay away, Getaway...

Fans of the dada narrative experiment that was Arrested Development's Netflix-produced fourth season will immediately recognize the lyrics to Mark Cherry's pop-ditty-cum-Dear-Gob-letter. It was, at the time of the show's May release, both a crafty recurring gag and a remarkably insidious earworm. But who imagined that it would also prove to be a prescient work of film criticism?

I'm tempted to leave it at that when it comes to Getaway, the new Selena Gomez vehicle (as in, she stars in the movie and spends almost all of it inside an automobile). But on behalf of the morbidly curious, I will describe its manifold deficiencies--yeah, sorry about that one--at slightly greater length.

The would-be B-movie tells the story of Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke), a former racecar driver who comes home to his apartment one afternoon to discover that his wife (Rebecca Budig) has been abducted. (More felonious than the kidnapping itself is the degree to which the opening scenes pilfer, thematically and stylistically, from The Fugitive.) His cell phone rings and a cartoonishly accented man instructs him, "Listen carefully. Your wife has been taken. At 4:30 p.m., you will go to the parking garage. There you will find a very special car. You will know which it is. Steal it." The voice continues down the usual checklist: there are cameras inside the car, so Magna's every move will be monitored; if he contacts the police or disobeys any commands, his wife will be killed, etc., etc.

The car he steals is an armor-plated Shelby Mustang Super Snake, and the "missions" he is told to perform mostly involve the incitement of seemingly random vehicular mayhem on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria, where the movie takes place. In the early going, Magna picks up a passenger (identified solely as "The Kid," and played by Gomez), a poor-little-rich-girl and computer whiz to whom the car belonged before he stole it. (Why exactly she needed an armored muscle car is one of many mysteries the film declines to plumb.)

What follows is a breakneck race to see which primary character can prove most irritating to viewers. There's Hawke, who as an actor flirts with insufferability on his best days; Gomez, who plays her character with the artless sulk of someone 21 going on 15; and "The Voice" (Jon Voight, literally phoning it in), who nags Magna as incessantly as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew: "You're running out of time," "Not much time, Mr. Magna." In the end, I'd give the victory to Gomez by a nose. But really, the only participant to emerge with its reputation intact--though not its paint job--is the Shelby Mustang, which also delivers the film's most nuanced and psychologically complex performance.

For the first 10 or perhaps even 15 minutes, there's a hint of quick-cut urgency to Getaway, which was directed by Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons, An American Haunting) from a script by rookies Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker. We watch tires squeal on cobbled streets; we zoom in for hideous close-ups of The Voice (his moistly gristled lips and yellow teeth, his designer eyewear); and we listen to the braying wee-wah wee-wah of European police sirens before they are crunchingly silenced by collision with the Shelby. And then: more tires, more Voice, more sirens, more crunches. And then more. Though vehicular accidents are generally broken down into five broad categories--head-on, sideswipe, rear-end, T-bone, and rollover--Solomon unveils countless variations on each theme over the course of his movie's historic automotive casualty count. Could there even be this many police cars in Sofia?

It's perhaps worth noting here that although the movie is set in Bulgaria, there is virtually no Bulgarian spoken throughout the film (though, in a moment of frustration, The Voice does allow himself a German "Scheiße!"). Moreover, in an obvious effort to retain Gomez's PG-13 audience, the F-word is conspicuous in its absence. Getaway is almost certainly the first theoretically hard-boiled film to make such copious, incongruous use of the verb "screw" ("Now I'm screwed, too," "Screw you," "You're screwed," etc.). The resulting impression is a microcosm of Gomez's performance and of the film as a whole: a kid trying desperately to act like a grownup, but with no real idea what that might entail.

Go away, Getaway.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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