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Short Time: The Best Car Chase You’ve Never Seen

What comes to mind when you think of the best car chases? And this only goes for moments of fiction; OJ Simpson does not count! I think most film buffs would point to the iconic car chases in Bullitt and The French Connection, respectively. Those are iconic for a reason. How about The Chase—the 1994 action comedy where the entire plot revolves around a car chase. Twenty-one years later, Mad Max Fury Road did the same thing. We could spend a week talking about these films and their contributions to the ever-evolving list of action spectacles. You can also throw Ronin, The Blues BrothersThe Italian Job, and many others onto this list. And where there’s a big-time car chase, there tends to be big-name stars: Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro, and Charlize Theron, to name a few. There’s one film and one actor you might not expect to find on a list of the best car chase scenes of all time: the film is Short Time, and the actor is Dabney Coleman.

Marketing material with Burt hanging from a building upside down with a helicopter behind.

I can almost hear you thinking aloud, what is Short Time, and why is Dabney Coleman part of this? Some of you may even be wondering who Dabney Coleman is. Coleman is a veteran character actor, most famous for playing the boss, Franklin Hart, in 9 to 5 and Ron in Tootsie. His career has spanned from the 1960s—still acting today via his appearance on Yellowstone in 2019. Chances are, if you’ve seen more than five films in your life, you have seen a Dabney Coleman performance.

When looking at Dabney Coleman, his persona does not scream out action hero. That’s not who he is or who he resembles. Instead, as was done in Short Time, he plays a schlubby, middle-aged police officer in Seattle who gets news from his doctor that he only has a short amount of time left to live, hence the title. For the rest of the film’s runtime, Coleman’s character, Burt Simpson, tries to die on duty so his family can collect his life insurance. Hijinks ensue.

I’ll be honest: it’s probably been two decades since I’ve watched the film from beginning to end, so the rest of the film is hazy, but rest assured, I’m very familiar with the chase.

One of these previously mentioned hijinks, the film’s centerpiece, comes when Burt responds to criminals in a high-speed pursuit with local law enforcement. Joining the chase in mid-pursuit, we find a multitude of cops tailing two bank robbers down the freeway. Just as Burt makes contact with the robbers, the criminals use an assault rifle to avoid the police. Finding joy with the expected visit from the Grim Reaper he feels he is about to receive, Burt’s energy level skyrockets through the roof, exclaiming, “Machine guns! All right!” as he does all he can to end his life.

Burt driving while giving two middle fingers

Recklessly speeding past and between the pursuing police officers, Burt finds himself the last cop standing versus the criminals after the criminals have taken out all pursuing patrol officers with their weapons. With this mano-a-mano now in place, the actors, and their stunt drivers, create movie magic.

The assault rifle shreds Burt’s pursuing vehicle as the cars take diverging paths: the criminals hopping the off-ramp while Burt continues on the freeway. Ready to end it there and now, Burt hurls the car down the off-ramp attempting to conclude the chase and his life. Unfortunately, Burt’s seatbelt was left on, so the pursuit must continue, to his dismay.

From the relatively calm freeway, the chase hits the city streets as Burt hunts down the criminals, ramming 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 Time finds Burt pushed into a loading dock where his car busts through panes of glass, itching for a car to come and shatter them.

The chase continues down the hilly city streets, hopping through intersections and racing down alleys. Not to be outdone by shattering the panes of glass, both cars race side by side as each car crashes into pallets of barrels. That has to be it, right? Not yet.

The cars race down a road underneath a bridge, with each lane of traffic separated by concrete pillars. Burt takes evasive action and finds himself driving down the wrong way into oncoming traffic. The criminals and Burt race side by side until Burt slide back behind the criminals. Almost immediately, the criminals hastily maneuver and hop into oncoming traffic, with Burt keeping pace on the right side. Burt mashes the gas, makes space between him and the criminals, gets into the wrong side, and parks his car. Burt watches and awaits the criminal’s approach. The criminal driver guns it as their vehicle T-bone’s Burt’s car resulting in a spectacular crash. As the passenger side took the brunt of the hit, he emerges hurt but alive—offering his disappointment at the criminals’ failure to live up to his hopes. And Burt lives to fight another day, whether he wants to or not.

Burt climbing out of his crashed car

The rest of Short Time fails to meet the lofty standards set by the car chase. Without this seven-minute symphony of carnage, without a score to add faux-dramatic effect, the film would have faded into a footnote in cinematic history. Maybe Short Time has already vanished into the ethos for most people; there isn’t much to the final product. But for seven glorious minutes, a formulaic and bland action/comedy went from fine to holy crap—that was awesome! 

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a struggling screenwriter who enjoys music, writing, and all forms of cinema. His musical tastes span a wide array, but mainly within the hip-hop genre. He considers Ghostbusters the best film of all time and has a weird obsession with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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