The Getaway (1994)

The windswept hairstyles of today's modern criminal
★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1994
Director: 
Roger Donaldson
Starring: 
Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen, James Woods, Jennifer Tilly
The Setup: 
Remake of the 1972 Peckinpah film, about a married couple on the lam.
Discussion: 

I had watched this soon after it came out—why, I don't know—and found it fairly dreadful then, aside from being gross and a more than a little distasteful ["Just plain vile," says Roger Ebert]. However, I became eager to see it again after watching the Peckinpah version from 1972, and recently finishing the Jim Thompson novel that inspired them both, as part of my ongoing Jim Thompson obsession. Eager, that is, until just a few minutes in, when it became apparent that this film is still just flat-out shit—insipid, hateful shit, at that. Oh and by the way, spoilers for this movie will also spoil the Peckinpah version.

Okay, so we begin with Kim Basinger as Carol taking some target practice in slow-motion in the middle of the desert, as she wears this kind of black and white thing that an affluent woman might wear to the upscale mall, and Baldwin as Doc is there in a pressed black shirt as they stand by the cream-colored Ford convertible, an obvious product placement. Now I've got to decide WHEN I'm going to talk about how incredibly WRONG Baldwin and Basinger are for these roles, but I think I'll wait until we're further in. Then Michael Madsen as Rudy comes up on a motorcycle, all 90s bravado with his red hair and ponytail, and they take off for this job, which is to spring this Mexican out of prison. They do, with a rather simple plan—I was thinking "It's a prisoner bust I could do!"—then the cops come, and Rudy abandons Doc to be arrested and thrown in a Mexican prison. We next see Carol going to see Doc in prison, and we can tell that he's having a really bad time because he's unshaven and is friends with a mouse. I am not kidding. He tells her to meet a guy named Benyon and say that Doc'll do any job he wants, so long as Benyon gets him out. Carol goes over to Benyon's, played by James Woods, during that period before he was very respected and he played every sleazy villain there is. His main gangster opens the door—yes, that's David Morse—and it becomes clear that Carol is offering Benton the use of her punanny in order to get Doc out. Next thing, he's out, and Carol is telling him how much she missed him—although it doesn't SEEM like she missed him very much at all, or him her.

So they go back to a hotel, and we can tell from the nightmarish soundtrack and the fact that she has wet hair that they're about to have steamy sex. "I'm just as nervous as you," Carol says, and then they get it on while you, at home, wonder why this married couple [they were married at the time] wants us to watch them having sex. So Benyon insists that they use his men, one of which is Rudy! The other is Philip Seymour Hoffman, back when he was still up and coming and had to do crap such as this, and whose character may as well be named "I die in the first shootout." We see Doc planning the crime in his secret crime lab. They rip off a dog-racing event by blowing the electricity—which for some reason causes the dogs on the track to become confused—Hoffman does indeed get shot, by the evil Rudy, who then means to kill Doc and take off with the money, but Doc shoots him first. But we see that Rudy is still alive.

And you're like "Okay, are they on The Getaway yet? Is this part The Getaway?" But no, they still have a little bit of business to take care of yet. They go visit Benyon, and he reveals his evil plot—that he and Carol had multiple orgasms together, and she planned with Benyon to kill Doc after he delivered the money! But—Carol kills Benyon! They leave, and stop by a picturesque lake to have a fight about how Doc never, ever had any idea that she would sleep with Benyon, and he just doesn't know if his pride can take it! Of course, she's furious because she had to sleep with the slimy Woods FOR Doc, and he doesn't appreciate it. Criminals can be so testy! Anyway, they continue on together, and I believe now, about 50 minutes in, we can finally say they are officially on The Getaway.

Okay, so let's use this natural breaking point to stop and assess. First, the 1972 Peckinpah film was an adaptation of the novel, so although it changed several elements, it retained the gritty, down-and-dirty feel and atmosphere of amorality, which worked, because Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw could pull it off, and the movie itself was balls-out and ready to go for it. That film opened with Doc in prison, with a fantastically-edited montage that lets us know how prison is getting to him. There is no Mexican prison break. The job [a bank robbery] is over fast, they're on the run fairly soon, and the majority of the movie is just chase, which works because the pursuit becomes stripped down and almost existential, in the manner of Vanishing Point.

As an adaptation of the novel, it is impossible to overstate how this movie is ALL WRONG. Jim Thompson fans can skip this altogether. To its credit, the movie only claims to be a remake of the earlier film, which is still all wrong, but in a way that CAN be stated. First, Baldwin simply isn't a tough guy the way Steve McQueen is. He's just too pretty, he's too clean, his hair falls across his eyes in too "too" a way, and he really doesn't look like he's ever been very far from the Hamptons. He worked as a badass Mafia guy in The Cooler, but this is no hardened, lifelong criminal. Which brings us to the matter of Kim Basinger. Oh God. To me, Kim Basinger looks like a rich California housewife who spends her day shuttling between the upscale mall, the spa, the gourmet foods store, and the gym. In her Mercedes. Okay? She does NOT, in any way, look like any kind of hardened criminal. And—where did this view of her come from? Her film before this one was the hideous The Real McCoy, in which she was a high-stakes international thief. Ali McGraw looked great without makeup and had a sullen, down-and-dirty quality about her, so she worked. We are going to have to devote an ENTIRE SEPARATE PARAGRAPH to deal with the question of Basinger's HAIR, but apparently they hired a female screenwriter [Amy Jones] specially for this film to "beef up" the character of Carol and make her more equal to Doc. Okay, except that in the original film you never questioned that MacGraw's Carol could pick up a gun and blow anyone away and drove like a hellcat, and you just KNEW they were equals. Here Basinger has to insist on being involved, has to insist on learning to shoot, and as a consequence feels much more diminished than MacGraw ever did. But ultimately it all comes around to the fact that these are just pretty rich kids playing dress-up, absolutely phony from the first frame.

All right, so let's have a little more plot before we continue with the myriad ways in which this film is shit, okay? So Rudy is still alive, because he wore his bulletproof vest when he said he wouldn't, and he stops by this veterinarian's place in order to get stitched up. The bulletproof vest thing is from the first film, though in the novel, Rudy is just a big, misshapen goon who is essentially indestructible, which is scarier. He has the vet stitch him up, and takes a shine to his wife, played by the always [okay, often]-welcome Jennifer Tilly. You will notice that Madsen is moving around and talking and just as cheerful as a spring filly, despite the fact that he has just had five bullets dug out of him and has a broken collarbone. This is largely because Madsen is incapable of acting. The script betrays Thompson's language by explaining hard-boiled phrases with appended dialogue such as "Try anything funny and I'll stop her clock. You hear that? She dies." This movie can't quite pull it off, and the first film didn't do that great, but this whole thing of this rural veterinarian's wife who realizes that her husband is douchebag number one and is only too thrilled to run away with this criminal is one of the more delightful elements of the novel. Later, the whole deal with Rudy fucking the wife in front of the husband comes off as just distasteful, as though the filmmakers don't know when they're crossing a line. Ironically, like many elements of this remake, they make it worse in this version by trying to be more tasteful with it. In the first movie, I believe the husband was right in the next bed, in plain view, whereas here, he's tied in the bathroom, and hops forward to see his wife having sex with Rudy. Somehow it wasn't gross and sadistic in the original—I think because the entire movie was unapologetically nasty and amoral, to the point where it became a fun romp—whereas here, the half-nasty way they try to play most of it makes these ugly elements all the uglier.

Okay, we need to start moving faster, because this is getting boring. A lot of stuff from the first film is repeated in close succession—Carol losing the money in the station, Doc finding the thief on the train [here they just leave him, still alive, in the restroom], the gun store that just happens to be right across from the restaurant, the cabbie who reports their location with them right in the car [thoroughly flubbed the by filmmaker's lack of respect for the audience's intelligence], the car chase [around 1:19, and I must say, not that bad], and the escape in the garbage. Okay, let's stop here. The garbage thing was one of the best departures from the book in the Peckinpah version—they jump in a dumpster, get compacted along with the trash, and are dumped out in a, well, dump. Once more the garbage they're stuck in is all neatly-folded cardboard and perfectly clean rags, but in the original, the duo REALLY get compacted, and are immobile for a long while, and when the truck dumps them out, it is in the middle of this apocalyptic wasteland—one shot with more content than nearly this whole movie. Here they don't get compacted that much, and Basinger let's out a little girlish squeal with every tiny little jolt. That's something MacGraw would never do, because, as you will recall, THEY ARE ON THE RUN FROM THE LAW AND CANNOT ALLOW THEMSELVES TO BE FOUND. Sweetie, we can't take this movie seriously if you're not going to, okay? Furthermore, THIS is how Kim Basinger's hair looks upon just having been compacted with garbage, then shoved out into a garbage dump:

Basinger's hair is one of the key things that keeps invalidating any kind of ability to take these characters seriously as… WHEN exactly is she finding all this time to style it? To fluff and rat and spray and shellack? And, I don't know, do lifelong criminals really look like that? Anyway, seems to me like Doc and Carol have been getting along swimmingly, but all of a sudden they start rehashing that she slept with Benyon and acting like they're going to split up… pretty much because this is where the equivalent scene took place in the previous version. There, however, they had kept the tension in the background through the whole thing. Oh dear, it's starting to seem mean-spirited to keep harping on this movie. So they go to the same hotel used at the end of the first, and have a huge shootout in which, as Roger Ebert says "it seems like more people get shot than were involved," and blah, blah, pretty soon it's over.

One of the weird things about this version is that they keep trying to make the characters slightly nicer. At the end Doc has a chance to shoot someone who he has very good reason to shoot, and very good reason to believe will try to kill him again, but he just can't do it! What, because underneath, he's a good man? Also note how, when Doc comes to pick up Carol at the train station, she says goodbye to the cute little Mexican girl she has apparently befriended. This time Doc merely knocks out—doesn't kill—the guy in the train toilet. And then there's the matter of Carol's "cute" little yelps when being thrown in the dumpster. I'm sorry, aren't these people supposed to be ruthless, down-and-dirty career criminals? Well, they're not here, which would be okay—IF the entire movie weren't predicated on them being ruthless, down-and-dirty criminals. That's what worked in the original—it was kind of hard to believe how nasty our main characters were being, and it made you start to admire them in that perverse way. If we're trying to be a little apologetic here—they're criminals, but they're ultimately nice PEOPLE—the whole thing doesn't work, and you're just watching pretty people play walk through a meaningless pantomime, wasting their time and yours.

To add insult to injury, there is a wretched pop song that starts right after the end, in this horrid raspy "sincere" voice, and says "Whenever I'm weary from the battles that rage in my head… you make sense of madness from the battles that rage in my head," and is revealed to be written and sung by: RICHARD MARX. Ugh—that about sums it up for me. There is just something that says "middle American mall" abut Richard Marx, and come to think about it, everything about this movie. This encapsulates everything that is awful about the 90s, and you know, there was an awful lot of awful about the 90s. Ugh. There really are probably no circumstances under which anyone should watch this movie.

Should you watch it: 

No, you're better than this.

RELATED FILMS:
THE GETAWAY [1972] is the Peckinpah version that has awesome editing and direction, stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and is superior in every way. The novel is great, as well.