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A blunt instrument in high gear

Movie car chases aren't dead, just stalled in their tracks after the glut of high-octane examples that followed Bullitt and The French Connection a generation ago. There aren't many ways to film crunching metal and squealing tires without spinning your wheels as a filmmaker.

That's the challenge director/screenwriter Alan Rifkin faces _ and occasionally meets _ in The Chase, an action-comedy with a title that says it all. Attractive fugitives Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson don't have much to do here except buckle up and hold on for dear life.

Sheen plays Jack, a bumbling prison escapee who unwittingly kidnaps an heiress named Natalie (Swanson) to avoid capture. The Chase follows their high-speed path outrunning a posse of police cars and Natalie's overbearing, wealthy father (Twin Peak's Ray Wise). Not exactly a script idea coveted by Harold Pinter or Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, but Rifkin squeezes every laugh he can from the slim premise.

Jack and Natalie face every highway obstacle imaginable except road kill. But nothing _ not car sickness, cadavers tumbling from a careening truck, or an urge to sexually merge _ slow down this high-octane couple. Meanwhile, their flight from the authorities sends the mass media into overdrive, searching for deep meaning in this senseless act and immortalizing every second for the next newscast or cop reality show. It's a broad, easy-to-hit target for Rifkin, in a movie that could be retitled Vanishing Pointless.

The Chase is certainly a bad movie, but one that solidly fits into that middle ground of "guilty pleasures" _ so two-dimensional and repetitious that Twentieth-Century Fox should consider handing out video game joysticks at the box office. It's also a blunt-edged satire that dares you not to occasionally smile at its audaciousness. Somehow, you get the feeling that Frank Bullitt and Popeye Doyle are having a pretty good laugh themselves.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Chase Grade: C+

Director: Alan Rifkin

Cast: Charlie Sheen, Kristy Swanson, Henry Rollins, Ray Wise

Screenplay: Alan Rifkin

Rating: PG-13; violence, profanity, sexual situations

Running time: 90 min.

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