(SPOILERS) This remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Steve McQueen starrer isn’t so much bad as unnecessary. As far as I can discern, about the only alteration Walter Hill made to his original screenplay (by which I mean, his original adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1958 novel) was adding Amy Holden Jones’ name to the credit (Jones’ most dubious claim to fame is the screenplay for the previous year’s Indecent Proposal). It’s not as if Peckinpah’s movie is an unalloyed classic (although, some revisionist takes would have it so), so there was no reason a different take on Thompson’s material couldn’t have been both valid and paid dividends. Particularly if it had tackled the novel’s ending; for which, see the review of the 1972 picture. It’s something you could easily imagine Oliver Stone, or Alex Garland, or Joe Carnahan running with. This The Getaway is not that different take.
Alec Baldwin is no McQueen, even if his hair is undeniably more lustrous. As in, he’s a character-actor lead, rather than a bona-fide star, something that became very evident in the wake of his solitary big lead hit The Hunt for Red October. Which was, in any case, a Sean Connery movie. The Getaway came just as Hollywood was ready to quit trying to get him an audience (Miami Blues, The Marrying Man, Prelude to a Kiss, The Getaway, The Shadow, all misses, with one more to come for good measure: Heaven’s Prisoners). Don’t get me wrong, Baldwin isn’t bad in any of them, and in at least one (Miami Blues) he’s absolute dynamite. But he didn’t have that draw, that elusive stuff the big guns do. And Alec knows a lot about what big guns do, of course (obligatory bad taste joke out of the way, assuming the whole incident can be taken at face value, that is).
One thing I’ll give The Getaway, though. Despite his inability to compete with McQueen’s Doc McCoy, the teaming with spouse Basinger – their second hook up, and second flop; they wouldn’t try it again – is much more believable and viable than McQueen and Ali MacGraw (however much it may have sparked offscreen). Basinger’s Carol may be impossibly stylised throughout (and ever so keen to show herself off, sensitively, in various states of undress), but you can buy her felonious smarts in a way you never for a second believe with MacGraw (this is relative, of course, but either way, the Razzie nomination was lazily meaningless). To the extent that you actively disbelieve she’d be dumb enough to fall for the locker switcheroo.
Director Roger Donaldson is no Peckinpah, any more than Baldwin is McQueen, but he’s also a more than solid journeyman, and he keeps the proceeds slick and glossy (Hill was also slated to direct originally, according to Baldwin, but budget arguments lead to him opting out). Whenever he’s called upon to stage a set piece– the initial robbery; Doc’s pursuit of the con man onto a train; the shootout in El Paso – he carries it off with something approaching verve. But Hill hasn’t bothered to mix anything up in plotting or twists, so the only changes are either about making it contemporary (Doc has to crack a more advanced safe) or down to the casting.
James Woods plays Jack Benyon, the guy who gets Doc sprung from Mexican jail to pull the job (he also serves as the repeated tension card; Carol slept with Benyon to secure Doc’s release). It’s a case of short changing us in a way Ben Johnson doesn’t in the 1972 movie, as you really need to give Woods a chance to chew on some scenery. The other problem is that offing him early makes Michael Madsen the de facto lead villain (David Morse as Benyon’s factotum is too functional to make a deep impression).
Madsen, in the role (Rudy Butler) Al Lettieri at least made a distinctive scumbag, is far too much a case of Madsen doing an autopilot Madsen villain, complete with serial mullet, five-hundred-yard squint and listless bravado. But also with shitbag in spades, even by his bad guy standards. There’s something depressingly banal about wallowing in this character’s mire. In particular, the repeat run through of his cruelty to vet James Stephens, whereby Rudy doesn’t so much lure Stephens’ cuckoo wife Jennifer Tilly as she throws herself at him (there’s evidently intended to be a degree of parallel with Doc and Carol having to learn to trust each other, but it’s all a bit murky).
Stephens ends up hanging himself, distraught at having to bear witness to the two coupling next door. Of course, any right-minded soul would count their blessing at having Tilly taken off their hands (the best moment in the entire movie sees Basinger laying out a hysterical Jen). This subplot even finds Rudy playing with a kitten, per the original, so undifferentiated is it. The same is true earlier with the bulletproof vests (Baldwin appeared to suggest Hill wasn’t entirely happy with Peckinpah reinterpreting his screenplay, but the writer has indicated otherwise; either way, I’m left wondering why he felt it worthwhile being involved in a remake that succeeded only in replicating all the same beats and sometimes word for word: “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be a Mormon, would you?” Well, other than for the cash, obviously).
The climax is solid, with a welcome appearance from Burton Gilliam as Gollie the bartender. However, Doc’s inkling that something is up before he goes for a bout of extended steamy rumpo with Carol, and only then remembering his thought post coitus, while Rudy has obligingly not decided to spring his trap on the couple in the meantime, is decidedly tenuous. The extended Doc/Rudy fight also becomes aggravating when it would have benefited from brevity.
It’s telling that it takes the final sequence, in which Doc and Carol commandeer their way across the border with an obliging old timer, to instil a trace of heart into the proceedings, and all of that is down to Richard Farnsworth’s warm-hearted manner. That’s the key problem with this remake, doubling down on the essential cynicism of the original; it’s empty, with no real flair in any of the key departments (performance, direction, script). The Getaway is also notable as an early Philip Seymour Hoffman outing (he exits in the first reel) and a Mark Isham score trapped in 1987. This remake just about gets away with it, but no one is discovering a neglected classic here.