It's clear from the start that 'Getaway' is not a good movie. The opening sequence is a mess of different video stocks and flashbacks, an easy tell that a team of editors tore out their hair trying to skip as much boring exposition while leaving the first scenes cogent. But once former race car driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) is behind the wheel of his stolen souped-up vehicle and is receiving crazy, destructive orders from the disembodied voice of Jon Voight, there's at least plenty of smashy-smashy to keep you occupied. The bad guy has some master plan – kidnapping Hawke's wife so that he'll be a mobile slave to his chaotic whims is part of laying the ground work.
But more than seeing traffic destruction on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria (this month's production location low-bidder) there's a bigger catastrophe. Fifteen minutes into the movie, Selena Gomez shows up.
More reminiscent of Meg from 'Family Guy' than her 'Spring Breakers' sirens, pudgy-faced Gomez embarrasses herself waving a gun around and blathering about hacking mainframes from her iPad. (Those in the audience old enough to remember 'Inspector Gadget' might flash on Penny and her “computer book.”) What's so remarkable about Gomez's performance is that she is supposed to be annoying within the film (she is a hindrance to Hawke, who just wants to follow Voight's instructions to rescue his wife) but her actual lack of talent prevents you from engaging on that level – you end up just being annoyed at her.
If nothing else 'Getaway' has accomplished one significant thing. It makes it plain that Selena Gomez, highly beloved pop icon she might be, has no business passing herself off as an actress.
Hawke is zipping, running red lights and our POV is switching to stashed cameras all over the place while Gomez is whinnying and shouting “not again!” At one point Hawke finally breaks down and shouts “I need to know when this sh*t is going to be over!” Not sure if this was in the script or if this was just the co-star/co-author of this year's brilliant 'Before Midnight' speaking extemporaneously.
It takes a movie like 'Getaway' to make you realize just how good last year's similar 'Premium Rush' actually is. That, too, was a vehicular exploitation picture – bikes instead of cars – with a silly premise. But it had visual pop, good cheer and actors with talent who made the best of it. 'Getaway,' which is ultimately about a bank heist, really does feel like theft – an attempt to yank as much money from young people drawn by Selena Gomez's name on the first weekend before word of mouth spreads about its awfulness. Other than pulling off some daring car crashes, the only positive thing I can say about this movie is that I respect how blatantly it rips off a plot point from 'Speed.' That takes some real chutzpah, as they say.
As 'Getaway' ended I turned to some colleagues and asked why the myriad of machine gun toting baddies trying to stop the car just didn't aim for the tires. The gang, usually so ready to dig in and argue about movie minutiae, just turned to me exhausted. “Oh, who cares?”
'Getaway' opens in theaters on August 30.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.