Putting the Pedal to the Metal

by Paul Astin | Jan 18, 2017

The weather’s warm and the open road beckons.   While stuck in traffic on the I-15 and late to work, one can’t help but wish, “If only I could do what they do in the movies.”


Blues Brothers (1980)

 When you’re on a mission, the rules of the road just don’t apply.  With their surplus Dodge police car, Jake and Elwood take on Chicago to find the members of their old band.  Trains, tunnels, traffic, Jake’s old girlfriend, and Chicago’s finest are no match for this snappy dressed sunglassed duo.  What would be CGI now was done with real cars on the real streets of Chicago.  To be honest, haven’t you always wanted to drive into a busy shopping mall? 
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The French Connection (1971)

Shot in a Brooklyn neighborhood, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) chases down an elevated train as he pursues 32 million dollars worth of heroin.  The chase was filmed with both crane and hand-held cameras and then edited together to create a tense drama, rather than a show of car crashes and explosions. In 1972, The French Connection won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. 
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smokey  Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Transporting illegal beer across state lines may seem odd today, but in 1977 it was a reasonable premise for a road film where the true star is a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am and a tractor-trailer full of the good stuff.  The Bandit (Burt Reynolds with a bushy moustache) runs interference for the tractor-trailer driven by Jerry Reed.  The screen is filled with flashing scenery and impressive stunts including a leap over a broken bridge.  Jackie Gleason plays the Smokey.  He has two problems with the Bandit.  He is driving way above the speed limit and he’s picked up the runaway bride of his son Junior, still in her wedding dress.
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The Italian Job (1969) and (2003)

The two movies have very little in common, except for the name and the chases.  Choose between Michael Caine leading a crew of Minis through Turin or Mark Wahlberg and company dodging L.A. traffic in rebuilt Mini-Coopers. 

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The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Bullets ricochet; vehicles are crashed, smashed, and sent somersaulting through space.  The integration of real stunt driving with CGI effects makes the blood pump even on the home set.  The plot may be a little murky, but the chases make it all worthwhile. 

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Ronin (1998)

If only you could drive the I-15 like the autobahn.  There are several incredible car chases in this thriller, but the one that keeps you on the edge-of-your-seat is a pursuit through Paris.  Your hands start gripping a pretend steering wheel and you become Robert De Niro at least for a little while.
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bullitt  Bullitt (1968)

No music, just the grinding of gears and the best car chase on film.  The man at the wheel is Lieutenant Frank Bullitt played by Steve McQueen.  The man makes turtlenecks look cool.  His vehicle is a Ford Mustang.  The chase sequence is reversed.  Bullitt isn’t trying to catch somebody, he’s being chased by a pair of hitmen who are driving and firing at the same time.  We cringe every time the Mustang takes a corner at a speed that should result in a collision with the closest building.  San Francisco is a great city for a car chase and this is the chase that all other action movies try to emulate and never quite get it right.
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Reality sets in.  Driving is a responsibility.  Seatbelts are important.   CGI crashes are not real life, but it is awfully fun to watch in the movies and replay in your head as you wait for traffic to move out of the way.