This movie contains maybe the purest example of a McGuffin I’ve ever seen. Hitchcock defined a McGuffin as “the thing everybody wants.” It’s the object the plot revolves around. In an Indiana Jones movie it’s the Ark of the Covenant, or the Crystal Skull. Really, it’s just an excuse for all the action. Here the McGuffin is an aluminum case of the sort that usually holds ice skates. The Russians want it, the CIA wants it, and the Irish Republican Army wants it. I think maybe the Girl Scouts want it, too, but I’m not sure. By the end of the film it has become rather ridiculous, though always amusing, to see how many people die fighting over it, and I lost track of the triple- quadruple- and quintuple-crosses. Like, who was that sniper “who never misses” that killed the ice skater? Where did she come from? I dunno. And what was in the case? Roger Ebert thought it was the same thing that was in the case in Pulp Fiction: just a lot of light. The punch line is … we never see what was in the case, which I thought was the perfect ending and let me forgive multiple sins committed in the last fifteen minutes. (Although I really would have liked a scene where somebody opens it and finds … a pair of ice skates!)
This movies contains what is probably the best car chase since Bullitt. It takes place on the crowded streets of Paris, is about seven minutes long, and about half that time is spent driving the wrong way on the divided highways. It goes underground a couple of times and I’m pretty sure it passes the point where Princess Di was killed. There are beaucoup car crashes, and not a one of them is hard to believe. No cars go flying across the Seine to land unharmed on the other side; no cars scale the Eiffel Tower; no cars go charging through the Louvre. And there is no CGI. It’s all good old-fashioned stunt driving. I have to say the ending is unlikely, with a car falling about 20 feet and all three passengers not only surviving, but not badly hurt. But I let that go. There must have been at least 100 stunt drivers involved. Remember, when they’re weaving though oncoming traffic, every one of those cars is driven by a stunt performer.
You know, there’s one thing that has always annoyed me a little bit about nearly all action films, particularly car chases. The car is barreling down a narrow alley, there’s two or three guys in the alley. They always turn around just in time to see the car coming, and they always leap out of the way just in time. They might as well be wearing jackets that say STUNT MAN on the back. Same thing when a car leaves the road and plows through an outdoor market or the sidewalk tables of a restaurant. Everybody is nimble as hell, everybody escapes. It’s the most unrealistic element of a car chase. In the real world there would be people who don’t see it coming. There would be baby carriages and people on crutches or in wheelchairs. Of course, not many stunt men would allow themselves to be hit by a speeding car (though you do see it now and then). The only way to do it realistically is with CGI. And, hell, I’m not really asking to see old ladies in wheelchairs go spiraling down the highway, squirting blood. It just looks so phony. I will say that in this film, unlike so many other, when there is a gun battle on the city streets with high-powered weapons and rocket launchers, a lot of innocent bystanders do get killed, as they certainly would.