Of the various and sundry subgenres indigenous to car movies, the auto theft film is one of the most common. The original Gone in 60 Seconds, the year 2000 remake, Eat My Dust, and Overdrive are just some of the auto-pilferage movies that have been covered in past editions of this column.
And while the topic has undoubtedly become hackneyed, I must admit that I never shy away from car boosting movies for one salient reason – they are bound to feature some awesome rides!
With that in mind, I thought this month we’d have a look at an auto theft movie that I have never seen before. So without further delay, here’s my breakdown of Crash and Burn (2007).
Crash and Burn was a co-production of three entities – Alpine Medien Productions, Larry Levinson Productions and Grand Army Entertainment – and was distributed in the United States by RHI Entertainment. Surprisingly, given a fair amount of topless strippers and gruesome violence present in the film, it originally appeared on Spike TV, a basic cable channel.
The movie was helmed by veteran music video director Russell Mulcahy, based on an original screenplay by Frank Hannah and Jack LoGiudice. Crash and Burn features a mostly unknown cast consisting of Erik Palladino, David Moscow, Heather Marie Marsden, Lobo Sebastian and Peter Jason, along with perennial Quentin Tarantino villain, Michael Madsen, as, shockingly, the bad guy.
Palladino plays Kevin Hawkins, a former Los Angeles car thief who, after getting in serious trouble with Johnny Law, left town for an extended period. He’s back now, and reconnects with his old crew consisting of Hill Dorset (Moscow) and Winston Manny (Jason), and attempts to patch up his old romantic relationship with Penny Middleton (Marsden).
In his absence, Hawkins’ old crew has found a new fence for the cars they steal in the personage of gangster Vincent Scallio (Madsen). With Hawkins back in play, they begin to boost and move a voluminous number of exotic and muscle cars, which raises the ire of competing car thief and gangbanger, Ramiro Chialpa (Sebastian).
The stakes ratchet up after a series of clashes with Chialpa’s crew and reach their breaking point when Hill’s younger brother is burned alive in retribution.
We discover that Hawkins is, in fact, an FBI asset, when, shaken by what has happened, he reaches out to his Bureau handler. Unfortunately, Scallio learns of Hawkins’ true identity at the same time, prompting him to kidnap Penny in return for Hawkins’ help in finishing a large order of stolen cars for a client.
Realizing an opportunity to take down both Scallio and Chialpa and secure the release of his lady, Hawkins puts in motion an audacious plan that brings with it enormous risk.
Does this all sound familiar? Well, it should, as the plot borrows heavily from past car genre films, most notably The Fast and the Furious and Gone in 60 Seconds franchises.
In fact, there’s little about Crash and Burn that isn’t derivative. The script offers nothing you haven’t seen before. The cause-and-effect loops are achingly predictable. The performances vary from embarrassingly flat and wooden to completely over-the-top and dominated by cliched gangster mannerisms (I’m looking at you, Mr. Madsen.) Heather Marie Marsden has so little to work with that what talent she may have is lost on a role that is nothing more than a misogynistic “damsel in distress” trope.
What’s more, for a director whose music video career relied on slick imagery to sell bands to the public, Russell Mulcahy’s direction and mise-en-scene is remarkably staid. Most annoyingly, the cinematography, by prolific B-movie lenser, Maximo Munzi, relies heavily on shaky camera shots to imply raucous action but conversely left me nearly dizzy and nauseous.
The movie is also strangely uneven, in that scenes of hijinks and shenanigans often abut ones depicting shocking violence (especially the scene where Hill’s brother is brutally immolated). Very odd indeed…
So lacking in promise was the movie’s beginning, that I nearly turned it off after a few minutes and picked another film to review.
At this juncture, I bet you’re waiting for me to say I hated it. Well, you’d be wrong. As if by some bizarre and unexpected voodoo spell, Crash and Burn actually had me engaged and entertained. I guess I’d liken it to watching a train wreck: it’s awful and dispiriting, but for some reason, you cannot manage to look away.
As best I can tell, it partly involves enjoying the unintentional campiness on a comedic level, like being one of the robots on Mystery Science Theater 3000; and ogling what is truly an impressive gaggle of exotic, sports and muscle cars. Since the raison d’etre of this column is to focus on the latter, let’s concentrate there.
Hill’s car features prominently throughout the proceedings. A classic 1968 Dodge Charger R/T covered in primer and sporting mag wheels, it makes for the perfect getaway vehicle for car thieves on the prowl: a fast ride in beater condition, so as not to attract attention. By the sound of it, the car sports a big block, most likely a 383 four-barrel or a monster 440. We never get a good look at the interior, so I couldn’t tell if it had an auto or a three or four-speed.
Other Mopars along for the fun include a sinister-looking, black on black 2000 Dodge Viper RT/10, and a 1972 Plymouth ‘Cuda 340. But my favorite car in the film has to be a stunning 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner in F8 Green, a color available today on modern Chargers and Challengers. What a beauty.
Ford is well represented in Crash and Burn as well. No less than four Mustangs spanning 40 years are present, including a red 1968 coupe, a silver 2005 GT, and an identical pair of 2006 Shelby GT-Hs in the classic black-with-gold-stripes Hertz Rental Car livery. The latter are involved in a pretty cool chase that includes a sprint through a parking garage. A primo, Peacock Blue 1956 Thunderbird also makes an appearance.
Don’t worry, Bowtie folks, cause Chevy features heavily here too. There’s a sweet ’72 Chevelle SS, a ’65 Stingray, a heavily customized ’78 C3 ‘vette, and a ’65 Impala convertible. All are involved in high-speed action.
A plethora of exotics inhabit Crash and Burn too. There’s a 1991 Acura NSX, a redder than red 2004 Bentley GT, a two-tone cobalt on black 2006 Bugatti Veyron, and a serious collection of Ferraris, including a magnificent ’71 365 GT/4, an ultra-rare 2001 550 Barchetta, a ’97 550 Maranello, an ’86 Testarossa and more. There’s also a 1996 Lamborghini Diablo VT thrown in for good measure.
Throughout the film, Scallio pesters Hawkins and his crew to find a fabled unicorn of a car, a prototype only referred to as a “789.” I presumed it would turn out to be some one-of-a-kind Porsche as the numerative appellation might suggest. Instead, Crash and Burn’s “Eleanor” turns out to be a rather disappointing, piecemeal, Corvette-based kit car built by a company called N2A Motors. Lame. Note to producers: if you’re going to tease us for an hour-and-a-half with a holy grail piece of automotive art, try to pick something cool, m’kaaaay?
For all the previously stated reasons, Crash and Burn is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. Technically and in terms of craft, it is solidly in the B- if not C-movie category.
However, because it moves along at a rapid clip, doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, and never takes itself seriously, it is a bearable, if not enjoyable guilty pleasure. It’s the kind of movie you can unwind to late at night after a long day. Although I can only give it five out of ten pistons on the Rob’s Movie Review scale, I’d nonetheless say you don’t have to avoid it like the Black Death, if for no other reason than that it has some pretty bitchin’ cars in it. Just don’t go in expecting Citizen Kane.
See you all next time!