Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vehicular Violence: CAR NAPPING (1980)

In 1974 a little, low-budget movie written, directed and starring one of Hollywood’s top stuntmen blew the hair back on audiences around the globe. An all-time favorite here at VJ, H.B. Haliki’s GONE IN 60 SECONDS can be accused of a lot of things, but boring it is not. Wrecking 93 cars and sporting a final chase scene that lasts and incredible 40 minutes, complete with twists to keep it interesting, GONE set the stage for a new genre of filmmaking. Everyone from Ron Howard to John Landis were profoundly inspired, as were countless other filmmakers of varying octanes.

One of the countless knock-offs is this West German film, originally titled ORDERED, STOLEN, DELIVERED (aka ESCAPADE); a very precise title, as is befitting the Germans. Starting out with shots of the prototype Mercedes CW-111 driving around a track and inexplicably cutting to a shot of our protagonist Robert Mehring (Bernd Stephan) driving around in a tastefully Polaroid striped Porche Turbo Targa 911 outfitted with a high-tech stereo system that stores cassette tapes in the dash. Oooooooh!

Loosely based on a true story, Mehring is a car designer who returns to his offices after a vacation only to find that his business has been liquidated by his unscrupulous business partner. After a testy, but unbelievably civil exchange between Mehring and his former business partner Benninger (Adrian Hoven, casually lounging with some topless girls on a yacht), Mehring finds his rather conspicuous Porche has been stolen. After miraculously finding the fence and the car thieves, he sells them the car to fund his as yet unplanned revenge scheme.
I’m sure this sequence of events made much more sense on paper. But wait, it gets better. Now, out of gratitude for not getting turned in, the main car thief Mario (Luigi Tortora) decides to recruit Mehring into their little GTA ring figuring Mehring can be the front man. Hey, Mehring just got royally screwed and has nothing but his CW-111 to his name, so what the hell? The score? 40 Porche’s in… well, this is Europe, so there is no real deadline, just whenever. In order to achieve this Mehring decides to pose as an obscure German Baron, Baron von Dahlberg so that he can scout out the nicest cars in Europe.

As it happens Benninger has a Porche dealership in France and the chase is, well, not on really. First the group decides in order to hone their skills and put their new partnership to the test they will boost 25 Rolls’ from a political reception in Germany and this leads us to our first major disappointment, one that will plague us for the rest of the movie. 25 Rolls Royce’s are stolen successfully, but we never even see it! No big suspenseful scene where a small army of car thieves try to silently and inconspicuously steal a freakin’ fleet of high-end luxury cars, no nail biting escape, nothing but a cut to a scene in which the protagonists congratulate each other. I don’t know about stealing cars, but that right there is just plain criminal.

The filmmakers decide at this point that we’ve just had too much excitement and what we now need is a romantic subplot to carry the movie though. Mehring meets  Claudia, a big business heiress and a lawyer who is currently trying to defend, wait for it… yes, a car thief. In a touching moment, Claudia’s Monteverdi is towed out in front of a restaurant and Mehring, prenteding to be the Baron, pretends to call the police, when in fact he’s calling Mario to tell him to return the car. Awwwwww… not a dry eye in the house.
Finally we get around to boosting the Porche’s and finally a little bit of car stealing suspense, this brief bit is cut away to a shot of a few of the Porche’s driving past the Arc de Triumph while two motorcycle cops… no, no, don't even think that. They just talk to eachother:
Cop 1: “Must be a rally or something.”
Cop 2: “Yeah, they never tell you anything around here.”

And that is really about it! Sure there is more romance between Mehring and Claudia. Sure there is a complication when Mehring is discovered. Sure there is a plot twist at the end that lets him get away (via a nice cameo by Adolpho Celi), but ummm… who cares? Yeah, it’s not the worst production, but it’s a little like making a slasher movie in which nobody gets killed or a movie starring a famous martial arts guy and then not having him get in any fights (*cough* Gary Daniels *cough*). I’m not suggesting that the producers trash the one-of-a-kind CW-111, but isn’t that why Citroens were invented? To be crash fodder for European action movies? I’m pretty sure that is the case.

As much as I love cars that I could never possibly afford to buy unless I went without food and shelter for over a decade, I’m not an expert by any means. When I started the movie, I kept thinking to myself, “dammit, I wish Jeremy Clarkson was here to give me some data on these cars!” Then I realized that after halfway through the movie I’m really glad he wasn’t because I would have had to listen to him piss, bitch and moan about the useless bloody German filmmakers and would have been held responsible for making him sit through a massive cocktease of a film that favors comparably to a pre ’78 Ford Pinto. Seems like a nice idea; a West German rip-off GONE IN 60 SECONDS, but it really didn’t take much to make it all go horribly wrong. Except here, they go wrong without a single explosion, airborne vehicle or even a dented fender. It just ain't right.

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