Titillation Factor

Kim Basinger has amazing nipples.
It's a bad sign when you walk out of a movie theater and the thing that most sticks in your mind is some physical quirk of one of the lead actors. I exited The Bodyguard, for example, unable to get over Kevin Costner's haircut. It was the worst haircut I had ever seen on a movie star. It wasn't until I read the press materials that I discovered that the film had originally been conceived as a project for the late Steve McQueen. Costner apparently figured that imitating McQueen's distinctive 'do would imbue his performance with some of the deceased action star's mystique. It didn't.

Now comes The Getaway, a fair-to-middling remake of the taut 1972 box-office hit of the same name, which also starred McQueen. The big question is "Why?" The only area in which the new film significantly departs from the old is the display of Basinger's nipples. Early on the sultry actress plays a love scene with her on-screen husband and real-life mate Alec Baldwin, who has assumed the role McQueen played in the first Getaway. We see them naked, in silhouette, as they face each other in a motel room. It's supposed to be the first time they've seen each other in a year. Basinger's nipples are erect and pointing skyward like the eraser ends of a pair of number two pencils. (Baldwin's penis, presumably, is in a similar state, but the camera angle discreetly avoids that issue. If Baldwin really wanted to prove his virility, this was his chance. Instead the actor hides behind that old Hollywood double standard regarding male nudity. You can bet Harvey Keitel wouldn't have wimped out.) Baldwin wastes no time attacking the little projectiles and noisily slurping away like a suckling newborn.

I'm pretty certain Ali MacGraw's breasts didn't receive the same exposure in the 1972 version. It was, after all, rated PG, whereas the remake got an R. And everyone knows the difference between Rs and PGs usually boils down to nipple visibility. Forget the gunfights and the sadism and the dead bodies piling up like kindling wood -- the MPAA has determined that the key to a better world is keeping those areolae covered.

So just like the original, the bullets fly and the body count soars in this Getaway. Director Roger Donaldson, an inconsistent filmmaker whose past efforts have ranged from an indelible portrait of a crumbling marriage (Smash Palace) and a tense suspense yarn (No Way Out) to an insipid star vehicle (Cocktail), uses here modern special effects technology to slight advantage. There's a way-cool tanker-truck explosion that beats anything in the 1972 film. But the first Getaway's director, Sam Peckinpah, was a master at building an atmosphere of dread and impending savagery. His Getaway, while no tour de force, was a gritty minimalist action pic with existential overtones. It reeked of fear and loathing. Donaldson's has no discernible tone and none of the original's tormented soul. It could have been called Getaway Lite.

The screenplay was co-written by Walter Hill, who scripted the original. You'd think Hill might have learned something in the twenty-odd years since he wrote the first picture, but no such luck. He once again reduces novelist Jim Thompson's hard-boiled novel into a cliched chase movie. But this time there's no Peckinpah to bail him out. Baldwin's Doc is a safecracker -- the best there is (aren't they always?). And he has a code. He doesn't speak much, but when he does he's a man of his word. His beautiful wife Carol will do anything to get him out of the Mexican prison where he's rotting, including sleeping with a sleazy but powerful crook like Jack Benyon (not one of James Woods's finer moments). Doc agrees to pull one last robbery for Benyon. They get the money but a series of murders and double-crosses results in Doc and Carol trying to get out of the country with the loot, a posse of bloodthirsty scoundrels in hot pursuit. Hill has forged a career out of movies like this, both as a writer and as a director (Hard Times, Southern Comfort, The Long Riders, 48 HRS). Rewriting this project must have been the easiest buck he's ever made. He didn't have to change a thing.

Alec Baldwin, while capable and handsome in a too-slick GQ sort of way, generates none of Steve McQueen's intensity or charisma. You always felt like McQueen was wound so tight he could explode at any moment. Baldwin comes across like a matinee idol who would rather not get his nails dirty. He just doesn't have the edge.

While Baldwin, like his predecessor Costner in The Bodyguard, makes a poor McQueen substitute, Basinger's performance beats the hell out of MacGraw's. True, that could be construed as damning with faint praise. The part doesn't call for much emoting beyond a good pout, and Ali MacGraw's acting skill was never likely to elicit favorable comparisons to Kate Hepburn or Meryl Streep. But this is a big improvement over Basinger's last project, The Real McCoy. That one was a dud sure to make almost every critic's short list of the worst Hollywood bombs of 1993. Basinger's Carol is more of an accomplice than a fashion accessory; she gets to ventilate almost as many bad guys as her gun-toting hubby.

Still, the new but unimproved Getaway is not a total loss. Donaldson does a good job with the dog track robbery that sets the chase into motion, and the climactic showdown at a fleabag hotel in El Paso packs a wallop. Baldwin is no Steve McQueen, but at least he brings a fluid athleticism to the role. Yet in the end it's just another shoot-'em-up, long on style and short on character. And distinguished only by a pair of nipples.

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