What comes to mind when you think of the best chases? And this only applies to moments of fiction; OJ Simpson doesn’t count! I think most movie buffs would point to the iconic car chases in bullitt and The French Connection, respectively. They are iconic for a reason. What did you think about The pursuit—the 1994 action comedy where the whole plot revolves around a car chase. Twenty-one years later, Mad Max Fury Road did the same. We could spend a week talking about these movies and their contributions to the ever-evolving list of action spectacles. You can also throw Ronin, The Blues Brothers† the Italian job and many others on this list. And where there is a big chase, there are usually big names: Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro, and Charlize Theron, just to name a few. There’s one movie and one actor you might not expect to find on a list of the greatest car chase scenes of all time: the movie is Short period of timeand the actor is Dabney Coleman.
I can almost hear you thinking out loud, what is? Short period of time, and why is Dabney Coleman part of this? Some of you may even be wondering who Dabney Coleman is. Coleman is a veteran actor, most famous for playing the boss, Franklin Hart, in 9 to 5 and Ron in Tootsie† His career spans from the 1960s and continues to act through his performance on Yellowstone in 2019. Chances are, if you’ve seen more than five movies in your life, you’ve seen a performance by Dabney Coleman.
When looking at Dabney Coleman, his persona doesn’t scream an action hero. That’s not who he is or who he looks like. Instead, as was done in Short period of time, he plays a wimpy middle-aged cop in Seattle who is told by his doctor that he only has a short time to live, hence the title. For the remainder of the film’s runtime, Coleman’s character, Burt Simpson, attempts to die while on duty so that his family can collect his life insurance policy. Hijinks follow.
I’ll be honest: It’s probably been two decades since I watched the movie from start to finish, so the rest of the movie is fuzzy, but don’t worry, I know the chase well.
One of these aforementioned jokes, the film’s centerpiece, comes when Burt responds to criminals in a high-speed chase with local law enforcement officers. As we join the chase midway through the chase, we find a multitude of cops chasing two bank robbers on the highway. Just as Burt makes contact with the robbers, the criminals use an assault rifle to evade the police. Rejoicing at the expected visit from the Grim Reaper he thinks he will receive, Burt’s energy level shoots up and exclaims, “Machine guns! Okay!” as he does everything he can to end his life.
Recklessly speeding past and among the chasing cops, Burt finds himself the last cop facing the criminals after the criminals take out all the pursuing patrol officers with their weapons. With this mano-a-mano now in place, the actors and their stunt drivers are creating movie magic.
The assault rifle destroys Burt’s pursuing vehicle as the cars take different paths: the criminals jump off the ramp as Burt continues on the highway. Ready to end it there and now Burt swings the car down the exit in an attempt to finish the chase and his life. Unfortunately, Burt’s seat belt stayed on, so the chase has to continue much to his dismay.
From the relatively quiet highway, the chase continues through the city streets as Burt chases the criminals and rams their vehicle so hard that the assault rifle falls out the back window. And what chase would be complete without a ramp and objects to crash through? Short period of time finds Burt pushed into a loading dock where his car is breaking through windows, itching for a car to come shatter them.
The chase continues through the hilly city streets, jumping over intersections and racing through back alleys. Not to be outdone by shattering the windows, both cars race side by side as each car crashes into pallets of barrels. That must be it, right? Not yet.
The cars race down a road under a bridge, with each lane separated by concrete pillars. Burt takes evasive action and finds himself driving the wrong way and against traffic. The criminals and Burt race side by side until Burt slips back behind the criminals. Almost immediately, the criminals maneuver hastily and jump into oncoming traffic, while Burt keeps pace on the right. Burt stomps on gas, makes space between him and the criminals, gets in the wrong side and parks his car. Burt watches and waits for the criminal to approach. The criminal driver shoots it as their vehicle hits T-bone’s Burt’s car, resulting in a spectacular crash. While the passenger side took the brunt of the blow, he emerges hurt but alive – offering his disappointment at the criminals’ failure to live up to his expectations. And Burt lives to fight another day, whether he likes it or not.
The rest of Short period of time does not meet the high standards of the chase. Without this seven-minute symphony of carnage, with no score to add a faux-dramatic effect, the film would have faded to a footnote in cinematic history. Could be Short period of time has already disappeared into the ethos for most people; there isn’t much to the final product. But for seven glorious minutes, a formulaic and boring action/comedy went from fine to holy crap – that was awesome!