Thursday, May 17, 2012

Car Chase

The most interesting thing about Hit And Run, Dax Shepard's new film set for release later this summer, is that it's the sixteenth film to share that title since 1924. Which is fine, since it's a great title - three words, three letters each, meant to be laid out in boldface all caps on a marquee. We've also made a film with this title practically every year of the past decade, which lets you know how much Hollywood has come to value original thinking lately.

The trailer shows Shepard, who plays a bank heist getaway driver in witness protection, driving a dune buggy and a Corvette C6, but car nerds have been geeking out over the '67 Lincoln Continental with the 514ci racing crate engine bulging so conspicuously under its hood. Which is nice and all, but it sounds like putting a jet turbine boat engine on a barge, and is probably about as tidy to handle.

The plot is easy enough to guess from the plot: Dax's old criminal buddies catch up to him and blow the cover on his new life, sending him and his new girlfriend on the run, where she discovers for the first time his wicked-awesome driving skills as they swap cars with Bradley Cooper and his blonde dreads in pursuit. They're caught, there's an exchange of repartee (ATTENTION: PRISON RAPE JOKES,) the money is exhumed, further complications ensue and Dax and girlfriend Kristen Bell either ride off into the sunset with the money while Tom Arnold shakes his head ruefully or some sort of semi-bummer "ironic" ending denies them of their ill-gotten gains in the interest of delivering a punchline that Shepard had always hung the script on.

Before that happens there will be car chases, a movie action component that has become ritual, and has been largely consigned to second unit professionals. We've come a long way since car chases in films like Bullitt and The French Connection made actors lunging about in front of rear-screen projection obsolete, but instead of driving constant innovation, most car chases have simply turned into a pointlessly adrenalized way of getting actors from point A to point B.

There are probably a few foreign films with car chases - the French seem to have a fondness for them - but the car chase is still quintessentially American, even if it has devolved into an excess of films where characters grind out acres of exposition while conversing in the confines of a moving auto. A car-less life has meant that the whole of my experience of driving really fast has come from the movies, so reviews of car movies will be a regular feature on this blog. I might even write about Hit And Run, though to be frank, it looks more like a rental.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This video has been going viral for the last few days, accompanied by the usual sneering at the apparently incurable douchiness of the "typical" Lambo driver, which I will have to take at face value since I've never met an actual Lamborghini driver. Beyond that, the only Lambos I've ever seen have usually been parked in the forecourt of collision centres, which might constitute something like definitive proof of the aforementioned douchiness.

It's hard not to laugh, really. The Lambo driver - whose ride is finished in what's widely referred to as "pussy magnet yellow" - gives his engine a gun while waiting at the red, apparently signaling his intention to "peel out" imminently, which is transformed into vainglourious failure when he accelerates too far into the turn and ends as the filler in a Lambo sandwich between a minivan and a sedan. There are a lot of videos like this out on the interweb, which suggests that there are thousands of people cruising around with their cameras and cell phones at the ready as soon as they spot a Murcialago or a Diablo in the wild, enjoying its brief moment of liberty between the dealer's showroom and the auto body shop.

The real wonder of the video is that it was filmed in suburban Chicago - Ferris Bueller-land - and not the national douche preserves of Los Angeles or Greater Miami-Dade County. Once you absorb that, it's hard not to imagine Cameron Frye in the Lambo, nearly forty-five now, and finally out from under the shadow of Ferris and his dad. 

The Lambo is leased, and until he blew the turn, he was celebrating the end of years of therapy, but as soon as the car came to a shuddering stop and he looked up to see the whole Martinez family glaring at him from inside the minivan, his mind was filled with the image of the broken 250 GT Spider California nestled amidst the broken branches. As the police helped him squeeze out of the Lambo's scissor door, all they heard him say was "I should have gotten the Chrysler 300."

I laughed. Of course I did. But it was a cautious laugh, even a shameful one, since I have absolutely no guarantee that I wouldn't do the same thing. Hell, I might do it if I was behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, but I have a deep, abiding fear that I'd be just as capable of the same gross public fail in a Mazda 2 or a Toyota Yaris.

That's the thing - with no history of road skills to speak of, my mocking laugh is a display the worst sort of unearned spite.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


My dad's 1964 Buick LeSabre sat in the garage gathering dust for at least three years after he died. To a child's eyes it was a big car, but I know for certain that it was a small garage, which required you to edge carefully around it as soon as you walked through the door, collecting smudges of dirt on your clothes as you tried to retrieve a garden rake or whatever else managed to share the space with my father's car.

It was brown - that dull, coppery earth tone that was the era's car colour signifier of solid, stable and mature. He bought it the year I was born, but since his health deteriorated every year until his final heart attack, I doubt he got to drive it as much as he might have liked. You don't see a lot of LeSabres around these days, but I'd love to find one again, just to get a sense of how big it really was, and to see if it would trigger some palpable sense memory of my father, a man I truly loved and who I knew for such a short time.

It would be a bonus if it was brown.

I have a few carefully hoarded memories of my father, including a cherished one of watching Looney Tunes with him on the old black and white set in the living room, but I have none of driving in that car. My earliest car memories involve sliding around on the bench seat of my Uncle John Barnes' late-'50s hunk of classic four-door Detroit, on one of the many visits we made to Hamilton with my widowed mother to visit her sister, John's wife. He was always my favorite uncle, patient and unusually kind, for reasons that would become clear to me later. (He was, in fact, my grandfather, but that's a whole other story.)

I had that memory vividly revived years later in Havana, driving around the city with musician Guillermo Barreto in his beautifully preserved '56 Chevy, which actually smelled like Uncle John's car, the tobacco smoke curing the leather upholstery in the humid Cuban air just as it had in my uncle/grandfather's car many miles north in the heart of Canada's rust belt.

It's a stretch to imagine that I might have learned to drive in my dad's LeSabre. Even if he had lived, I doubt that he'd have kept the same car for more than a decade and a half, if Canadian winters had let it survive that long. He'd have hit retirement age by the time I'd have gotten my learner's permit, and I imagine him trading in the LeSabre for something new as a treat. Given the brand loyalty peculiar to Ontarian men of my father's generation, it would probably have been another Buick.

They were still making the LeSabre in 1974, but I imagine my father going for a bit of a change, something just the slimmest fraction sportier - a Riviera, perhaps, or an Electra. A coupe. In brown. It would have been this car - along with my brother-in-law's Audi Fox, maybe - where I would have learned to drive.

I doubt if Dad would have gone for the high performance Stage 1 dual exhaust engine, so I would have had to tentatively take to the road piloting a 5,000 lb. sled with a 455 V8 with 3-speed automatic transmission and Max Trac traction control, if Dad had gone for that option. It would have been a beast of a car to learn in; an old man's car, which I probably would have driven like an old man, on the rare occasions that he might have let me take it out.

But that's another world. He never bought that car, so I never learned to drive in it, and the LeSabre was long gone by the time I was sixteen, our garage empty and our driveway untenanted by any car. We sold it to George Parker down the street, who only had the LeSabre for a few years before he sold that on for a new car, make and model unremembered by me, though I do know that it was the car where his son, my friend Shawn, found him in, dead of a heart attack while waiting for him after school. Dads didn't last long where I grew up.

And so I miss that LeSabre, though I can't blame its absence - or the lack of any car at all - for my unwillingness to learn to drive back at the dawn of the '80s. For that I blame a golf cart. But that's another story. Shawn Parker has a role in that one, too.


This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I want to live here, and drive that little open-wheel car around that track every evening as the sun sets.

My ambitions are modest.