Honk If You Love Jerry

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Guys love cars. Put a teen or a senior behind the wheel, set him loose on a dirt road or a freeway at 3 in the morning and he is a free man, a king in his mobile castle, a top-gunner, a strong, tireless, cunning and faithful lover.

Jerry Bruckheimer loves guys who love cars. He produces movies for them, four-on-the-floor vehicles like Days of Thunder (Tom Cruise in a stock car, making two hours of left turns) and The Rock (Nicolas Cage revving a yellow Ferrari). Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, even Top Gun and Con Air (planes are just cars on a highway of clouds) and Armageddon (grease monkeys in outer space), all celebrate speed, combat and heavy machinery--three things that make every ride a macho adventure. A Bruckheimer movie without a car chase would be like a Woody Allen movie without whining.

So Bruckheimer's new one, the loud, fast and terminally conflicted Gone in 60 Seconds, must be his Annie Hall--the apotheosis of his obsessions. It's a love story about a man and his car. Actually, a man and other people's cars, for Randall ("Memphis") Raines (Cage) is a car thief, a legend among the felon class of Long Beach, Calif. Six years ago, Memphis gave up stealing cars so his young brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) would have a better role model. But Kip went into boosting cars anyway, and now he's in trouble. Your standard movie wacko (Christopher Eccleston) will kill the kid if Memphis doesn't come out of retirement and steal 50 cars in three days.

In this film we learn that it takes 8,000 lbs. of pressure to crush a car but only one credited screenwriter (Scott Rosenberg) to pound out such a lame script. In the Bruckheimer tradition, Memphis assembles a team to carry off the job: a father figure (Robert Duvall), the token black (Chi McBride) and a mute (Brit footballer Vinnie Jones) with a gift for setting cars on fire. Angelina Jolie is here as the nominal girl-jock love interest, but Memphis' true love is a Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500. As he says of his early career, "I didn't do it for the money. I did it for the cars."

Dominic Sera, like many Bruckheimer directors a graduate of TV spots, gives the dialogue scenes a kinetic pizazz. But they didn't make this movie for the characters; they did it for the cars--for a Knievel-like stunt that sends the Shelby over a dozen or so autos on a bridge, and for the joy of showing young people stealing cars, then driving them recklessly around a crowded city. Why don't these kids do something less dangerous, like heroin? At least then they'd kill only themselves.

The press notes for Gone in 60 Seconds feature some cute bits of data: the first car owned by each prominent member of the cast and crew ("Cage's first purchase was a yellow Triumph Spitfire he bought for $2,000"). These folks treasure their cars and might not think highly of a fellow who stole them. Yet the film has few quibbles about the ethics of boosting. Hey, guys in the film (and guys who made it): maybe a wage slave left his PC in the trunk of that Toyota you stole; maybe a child's first drawing is in the glove compartment of that HumVee pickup. For people who love their cars to make a movie that lionizes a person who steals them is a textbook case of sociopathic schizophrenia. We almost hope that when they leave work this evening, their Lamborghinis are gone.