The Best Car Chase in Movie History No One Ever Talks About When They Talk About the Best Car Chases in Movie History
What is the greatest movie car chase of all time? Type the phrase “best car chases” into Google and you’ll get page upon page of lists ranking, debating, and considering that question. The “best” of anything in cinema is subjective, and open to interpretation. But no matter what list you read or which critic you trust, a few contenders pop up over and over again: ‘Bullitt,’ ‘The French Connection,’ ‘Ronin.’ And rightfully so; those movies all contain incredible car chases.
But there is one all-time great car chase that I’ve never seen on any online list of the best car chases; not on Time’s or IGN’s or Popular Mechanics’ or Yahoo’s or ShortList.com’s. Time Out didn’t even include it on their list of the “most insane” car chases in history, even though it features maybe the toughest movie cop ever running for his life from a remote-controlled toy car.
The insane car chase in question comes from ‘The Dead Pool,’ the fifth and final film in the Dirty Harry series. Once again, Clint Eastwood stars as San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan, a ruthless cop who hates bureaucratic red tape almost as much as criminals. In ‘The Dead Pool,’ Harry investigates the murder of a rock star (a young Jim Carrey, who lip-synchs Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” in another scene that should be more famous than it is). Eventually, Harry discovers evidence that the rock star’s death is tied to a “dead pool,” a distasteful wager in which people bet on what celebrities might croak in a given year.
Here’s the set-up for the chase: The mystery dead-pool murderer kills one of his victims with a bomb-rigged, remote-controlled toy car. Later, Harry examines the crime scene and spots a tiny car wheel amidst the explosion’s debris. He makes little of it until he’s cruising around with his partner and spots a toy car headed his way. Instantly, he puts two and two together; someone’s murdering people with these things! Aaaaaaand cue the crazy car chase, with Harry blazing through the streets of San Francisco while the toy Corvette and the killer follow in hot pursuit:
It’s an incredible scene, similar to the one in ‘Bullitt’ but with the added novelty of the deadly toy car doing half the stunts (including a textbook-perfect J-turn). ‘The Dead Pool’ was directed by Buddy Van Horn, a stuntman and stunt coordinator turned filmmaker. His direction emphasizes clarity and visceral excitement, and the practical stunts are plentiful and outrageously dangerous-looking. It’s great. You might even say this car chase made my day. (Or you might not, if you’re not a fan of lame jokes based on movie references.)
So why isn’t ‘The Dead Pool’ ever included among the contenders for the best car chase in movie history? The fact that the film isn’t a masterpiece apart from its car chase probably doesn’t help. ‘Bullitt’ and ‘The French Connection’ are classics; ‘The Dead Pool’ is the fourth sequel to ‘Dirty Harry.’ Most people haven’t seen it, and many that have don’t think too highly of it. At this point, ‘The Dead Pool’ is largely forgotten; which means it’s also largely forgotten when people start to make best-of lists. (I wonder, too, whether writers’ research for these lists begin and ends with Googling previous versions of these lists and simply rearranging what they find, creating an echo chamber effect.)
I’m sure some will also argue ‘The Dead Pool’ gets omitted because its chase is too ridiculous to belong on a list of greats like ‘Ronin’ or ‘The Road Warrior.’ And, yeah, this car chase is pretty absurd. A toy car probably couldn’t keep up with a full-sized Oldsmobile, and I don’t have a clue how the killer is driving his car and the toy car simultaneously.
But let’s be honest here: Car chases are inherently ridiculous. A “realistic” car chase is what you see on the news: A lunatic in an SUV driving the wrong way down the highway for 20 minutes. Every movie car chase—even the ones shot and edited with absolute precision and engineered for maximum suspense—depend on perfect timing and a ludicrous series of coincidences. It’s not that other car chases are serious and ‘The Dead Pool’ is silly; it’s that all movie car chases are silly and ‘The Dead Pool’ is one of the few that has the guts to point it out, and have a little fun with the convention at the same time. The only thing the scene is missing, in my mind, is “Yakety Sax.” And, sure enough, YouTube has a version that adds it. I love you, The Internet.