Pop Culture Pet Peeve: The no-consequences car chase
I’m going to start off by saying that I love action flicks; my girlfriends and I giddily chat about the newest 2 Fast and 2 Furious Drift x 5 (that’s the official title, right?) trailer, I scrambled to sign up for the Action in Cinema class in college before it got filled up with those boys who think that Die Hard is a classic right up there with Citizen Kane (OK, I kind of agree with them), and I often do work while casually watching 300 in the background. Done right, the action film offers up the perfect amount of drama, one-liners, tension, and, of course, adrenaline-pumping action.
That being said, there’s one thing that irks me the most about this wonderful genre: The car chase. Look, I’m not daft, I know that there’s a 99.9 percent chance that there will be a car chase through a busy street at some point in an action film, but after seeing it done over and over again, it’s lost the nail-biting edge that it used to have. When it came out in 1968, Peter Yates’ Bullitt freaked everyone out with its windy car chase through the streets of San Francisco. But now? The audience knows what’s going to happen: The police think that our hero is a bad, bad man. They will proceed to chase him through some busy street. There will be close calls, but the hero will outsmart them because the film must go on!
But in real life, a car chase through a busy downtown area is next to impossible. A Los Angeles highway late at night? Sure. I remember when I first moved to L.A. from New York, I was amazed that there were actual car chases on the news several times a week. They always got caught, but for a few minutes, perhaps even an hour, some schmuck would do 100 down the empty 110 at midnight hoping to get away. That is believable. Going record speeds and managing to escape the po-po in New York, London, or even downtown L.A.? Nope. Not happening. Have you seen what happens during rush hour? It’s hard enough for me to squeeze onto the subway let alone pass my car through nonexistent openings in lanes. It would also take about five seconds for a cab driver to crash into you.
The Fast and Furious flicks are obviously victims of this charade — but most of the time, they seem to know it and exploit the ridiculousness of the car chase, which is why they keep on getting bigger and bigger with each installment. In National Treasure: Book of Secrets,
Robert Langdon Benjamin Gates and Associates race through the streets of London being chased by baddies and some cops. They squeeze onto sidewalks, go down one-way streets, and crash into everything. Everyone is safe, though, and no pedestrians get hurt in a MASSIVE CAR CHASE THROUGH ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST POPULOUS CITIES. I know that it’s a PG flick, but COME ON. And in The Bourne Ultimatum? Yes, Jason Bourne is very good at his job of not dying, but the car sequence was just a little too lucky. Are you telling me that a trained assassin and NY cops in the interest of public safety can’t stop a guy who’s driving around on a small island? Yeah, okay. And in both of these flicks, the main characters just UP AND WALK AWAY from the billions of dollars of destruction they’ve caused.
I know, I know, movies are supposed to take liberties! They’re supposed to be unrealistic! Now, this won’t stop me from checking out future macho, Bechdel-failing films, but it will take me out of the action for a brief sequence. After a car chase, I’m sure everyone around me is holding their breath, but I can’t help but think to myself: Were there ambulances called for the pedestrians who were most likely mowed down? And how much will all this reconstruction cost? I’m looking at you, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
We live in a world where cops will literally shoot at anything, and we can’t get some police enforcement to mercifully end a destructive and deadly car chase? Sure.