The first "Gone in 60 Seconds" -- the 1974 version directed by drive-in-movie auteur H.B. Halicki -- was a poorly scripted, badly acted and amateurishly edited tale of a gang of car thieves. (Don't even ask about the abhorrent "She's Got the Lois Lane Blues" on the tepid soundtrack.)
Nothing could really save the picture, but its finale was something to behold: The director himself (also a stunt driver) put the pedal to the metal, racing his yellow '73 Mach I Mustang at top speeds across Southern California for a technically impressive chase scene that took all of 40 minutes and reportedly involved the destruction of 93 vehicles. Those who rent the film should skip everything else and fast-forward to this grand finish.
Halicki died in 1989, but his spirit lives on in a slick, high-octane, megabucks remake of the original model. Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer of Armageddon, "Con Air" and other overblown spectacles, may have taken one cue too many from Halicki: Like its source, the new film is notable mostly for its chase scenes. But oddly enough, even they don't quite deliver the desired speed or thrills.
The plot is likewise rather dopey. Randall "Memphis" Raines, played without much enthusiasm by Nicolas Cage, has sworn off the excitement and lucrative income of his old job as an expert car thief. Why? Because his overworked-waitress mom, Helen (Grace Zabriskie), didn't want her other son, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), to follow in his older sibling's footsteps.
Kip, alas, has gone into the family business anyway, and is now being squeezed (literally) by British gangster Christopher Eccleston (Raymond Calitri), an unpleasant guy who's strangely fascinated with woodworking. Kip's death sentence will only be lifted if Memphis agrees to fence 50 cars in four days and deliver them all to a container ship. (Wouldn't it be much simpler, and less risky, if the two picked Mom up, left town and stayed away until the baddie went back home?)
With that flimsy set-up as motivation, Memphis calls his old mentor, Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall, whose talents are wasted) and assembles the right team for the job. Old flame Sway (an unhealthy-looking Angelina Jolie) takes time off from her jobs as a mechanic and barmaid to join a motley crew that includes the whiny Kip, wisecracking Kenny (Chi McBride), beefy Tumbler (Scott Caan) and silent-but-deadly Sphinx (Vinnie Jones).
Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and other exotic vehicles are liberated from their rightful owners. The caper finally kicks into overdrive when Memphis steals a prized Shelby Mustang GT 500 (code name: Eleanor), eluding police and causing wanton destruction along the way.
It's the most pleasurable portion of a movie that would have benefited greatly from some key script revisions. Why, for instance, don't the filmmakers more fully develop the cat-and-mouse game between Memphis and Det. Roland Castleback (Delroy Lindo), the Los Angeles cop bent on his capture? Like the other opportunities this remake squanders, that chance has come and gone. And at breakneck velocity, no less.