Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger make a really cool 'Getaway'

February 11, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"The Getaway"

Starring Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger

Directed by Roger Donaldson

Released by Universal

R-rated

*** Here's a word you won't find in many film reviews and in fact many critics don't even know what it means. But you guys who actually pay your money to go to the movies use it all the time and know exactly what it means: Cool.

Cool in the sense that "The Getaway" is really cool.

Based more on the McQueen-MacGraw 1972 movie that was directed by the great Sam Peckinpah than on the ridiculous Jim Thompson novel of 1958, it's the story of a sexy bandit couple on the run across the Southwest from three pursuers: the law (a minor irritation), the mob (a slightly larger irritant) and a vengeful ex-colleague (bad news all the way).

Oh, and add a fourth pursuer: their own demons of mistrust. This is because in order to secure Doc's release from prison, his wife Carol has granted sexual favors to a prominent businessman who's also a gangster, and Doc isn't quite sure what to make of it. Thus, when they are not killing people or blowing open safes, they are feeling each other's pain and sharing their feelings. Think of a marriage counseling session with guns.

I should add that this is not a "remake" of the old movie but more of "another make" -- it uses the same script (by Walter Hill) with only marginal updates and scene shifts, all of them pointless (by Amy Jones). In the original they robbed a bank; in this one they rob a dog track. So what? There's also a slightly intensified feminist content, expressed through a more vigorous performance by the leading lady -- Kim Basinger, far from the shell-shocked, wilted violet that Ali MacGraw portrayed.

Basinger can act a little and that helps a lot, though I wish the movie had had time to examine why it is this woman is so drawn to tough, dangerous men. Paired with her husband Alec Baldwin, they make an appealing set of protagonists, though the movie (like the original) seldom plays fair with the larger moral issues of the situation: When Doc fires at cops, he always misses, whereas when he shoots at mob hit men, he never misses. The reason is simple and has nothing to do with marksmanship: If he kills a cop, it's a different movie.

In the hierarchy of professional criminals, Doc is very much the top of the pyramid: a safecracker and bank expert. He doesn't scare, he doesn't panic, he will shoot. But most of all he's smart, always working things out, always a jump ahead. In the original, of course, the legendary Steve McQueen was dynamite, helped by his sinewy body, opaque blue eyes, efficient yet lyrical movement and his gift for prop work. It was said of McQueen that he used objects better than anybody before or since: Give him a gun or a car and he looked like a god.

How does Baldwin do? Well, he's no McQueen -- who is? -- but he manages to get two of Doc's most important things right. He shows us the cunning behind Doc's feral eyes; we know he's got an inner life, a calculator for a brain and maybe a shred of heart. At the same time, he's got physical authority: We believe in his toughness, his resilience, his grace under fire.

On the other hand: bad clothes. The great old psycho maverick Sam Peckinpah put McQueen in Pike Bishop's severe black suit, black tie and white shirt, and gave him a prison bowl cut. McQueen was like a man out of time, severe and disciplined, who moved through the fashion chaos of the early '70s like a knight errant.

Whoever dressed Baldwin was asleep at the wheel. His clothes have no panache, they express nothing about him. He looks like pTC an H & R Block guy on April 16. I hated the little black pointy tie shoes he wore; those belong on a GS-9 out at Social Security, not a kick-butt armed robber and gunfighter.

Director Roger Donaldson stages his action sequences with impersonal professionalism. They are exciting but never quite as expressive as Peckinpah's sense of the world going completely nuts. The whole project lacks Peckinpah's sense of quirky genius; it's professional entertainment of the highest order rather than the ravings of a maniac-genius-outlaw.

Still, I do think Donaldson handles the last big gunfight in a scurvy Texas hotel better than Peckinpah, whose pacemaker must have been running down. McQueen's disposal of the analogous character, played by Al Lettieri, was somewhat nondescript. I like the way Baldwin actually engages his primarily antagonist, the sleepy but deadly Michael Madsen, in an unbearably intense mano-a-mano. It'll knock you out of your socks.

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