This is a check-your-brain-at-the-door, dig into some popcorn, sit back and enjoy summer explosion movie, brought to you by the same folks who did “Con Air.”
Nicolas Cage again stars as the good guy in a bad world, this time a reformed car thief named Memphis who has to get back into the game to save his brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi). Kip reveres his older brother’s mastery of the Zen grand theft auto as a Zen art form, but he also resents him for walking away from that life and from his family. Kip is supposed to steal 50 cars for a very mean guy with an English accent and a passion for woodwork. When Kip blows it, the baddie tells Memphis that he has to get the 50 cars in four days, or Kip goes into the car-size trash compacter.
What that means is that (1) we get comfortable cheering for the car thief, and (2) it turns into one of those movies that helpfully gives us a countdown (“72:00:00 hours to deadline”) as we see him put it all together.
Part of the fun is that the movie gives us bad guys (the car thieves) who must deal with worse guys (a gang that thinks they should be the ones to get this steal-for-order assignment) and an even worse guy than that (the threatening wood-lover and some off-screen heroin dealers). Then there are the good guys (cops Delroy Lindo and Timothy Olyphant) and the not-so-good guys (homicide cops who think car theft is unimportant).
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has this formula down cold: top acting talent (Oscar-winners Cage, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Duvall, along with rising star Ribisi and the sensationally talented Lindo), some snappy dialogue, a cool and clever hero, and lots and lots of chases, all done with such panache that even a “my dog ate it” plot twist doesn’t derail things.
Memphis and the cop both long to capture one elusive prize. For Memphis, it is “Eleanor,” the ‘67 Mustang he never managed to steal successfully. For the cop, it is Memphis himself, the one thief he never managed to catch.
Memphis says that he never did it for the money – “I did it for the cars.” He and his gang all love cars so deeply that as they go out to steal, they banter back and forth about TV car trivia, naming the make and model of any car ever driven on a sitcom or detective show. That gang includes former love Angelina Jolie, who doesn’t have enough to do, but does it well, looking very fetching in blonde dreadlocks. When she blows a kiss with those bee-stung lips, the audience lets out a collective sigh.
Parents should know that the movie includes strong language, sexual references and situations, and lots of tense scenes and explosions. Families who see the movie will want to discuss how the way that the movie “disinfects” the hero-thief by giving him (1) a good motive, (2) a commitment to going straight, (3) even worse bad guys, (4) loyal friends who demonstrate that he is worthy of respect and affection, and (5) a resolution that seems fair to everyone. They may also want to talk about how vulnerable everyone is to crime, and how to protect themselves and their property.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Con Air” and “The Rock” (warning: both are more violent than this one).