Originally created 06/17/04

Screech of tires, hazardous obstacles fuel car movies



Has it really been 10 years?

Ten years ago today, America was riveted by the unlikely sight of a white Bronco driving slowly down a Los Angles freeway, a trail of police cruisers following, just as slowly.

For those of us raised to believe that car chases were hyper-kinetic affairs that involved hot cars screaming through conveniently empty city streets, piles of empty boxes and outdoor markets patronized by only those limber enough to leap out of the way of unexpected hazards, it was a letdown.

And now, as is so often the case with anniversaries, we'll all be forced to relive it again. Go ahead, turn on the television. I bet that Bronco is on right now.

Better yet, retrieve your innocence. Pop in a movie where car chases are about squealing tires and airborne automobiles, about excitement and not inevitability and where, no matter how many trash cans (or boxes or apple-shopping stuntmen) the pursuer or pursued bangs against, those magic mobiles remain road-worthy and pristine. Here are a few of my favorites:

BULLITT (1968): The prototype for all car chases that followed, the styled run through the streets of San Francisco features both Steve McQueen and a well-muscled Mustang - all that's really needed for a great car chase, really. Particularly pleasing is the way director Peter Yates used the topography of the city as both a dramatic device and an excuse to get cars airborne.

THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980): An incredible feat of screenwriting, The Blues Brothers manages to craft an entertaining and endearing movie out of, essentially, car chases and musical numbers. Still, there's something to be said for an extended chase that begins with 106 miles to Chicago, a full tank of gasoline, half a pack of cigarettes and two comedy treasures in dark glasses and ends with what appears to be every police car in Illinois pig-piled in central Chicago.

RONIN (1998): I've seen this movie a couple of times, and I still have no idea what it's about. But man, what a car chase. An almost visceral experience. Director John Frankenheimer crafted a chase that, through the astonishing use of multiple cuts, implies speed not only through images but also through the pace of the film itself.

THELMA AND LOUISE (1991): Essentially one extended car chase, this female empowerment film's look at the role of women in society and the challenges involved in altering the roles succeeds both as metaphor and an electric thrill ride.

THE ITALIAN JOB (1969): While movie-goers born in the past 30 years might associate this title with the also-commendable 2003 remake, I've got a soft spot for the more Euro-centric original. The movie theoretically stars Michael Caine as the dashing thief Charlie Croker, but the real stars are the classic Mini Coopers racing through the sewers of Turin.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.