Once in a while a movie comes along that offers absolutely nothing substantial, and has barely any impact on you whatsoever, yet you can’t help but enjoy. The Chase is that kind of guilty pleasure.

I didn’t come away any different from the experience, and the second the credits appeared I immediately went on to other things, but I’ll give it three stars for keeping me thoroughly entertained and even making me laugh out loud a few times. And yes, the humor is mostly lowest-common denominator, whippy and zany, with a sprinkling of heavy-handed social satire thrown in for good measure. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it hilarious.

It’s “light-bulb” entertainment, flies buzzing around one, that is — the kind of movie that comes on as you’re flipping channels and you can’t help but watch, until it cuts to commercial and you move on to something else. The kind of movie that holds your attention only while it’s right in front of you. It’s not something I can really go into any sort of depth about, but I’ll try.

In the very definition of a cold open, The Chase begins with Jackson “Jack” Davis Hammond (Charlie Sheen) taking a sexy blonde stranger hostage in the middle of a gas station convenience mart when two cops become tipped off to his suspicious behavior. We don’t know what he did, but he’s already on the run even before the movie began. Clumsily disarming the cops, and hijacking Natalie Voss’s (Kristie Swanson) BMW while she’s still under the assumption his own gun isn’t really just a candy bar, Jack tries to skip town but within minutes, almost every TV channel news team in the San Diego area has seized upon the story and begins broadcasting the ensuing police chase live.

From here on out, the movie is basically one long action sequence, shot mostly in real-time, that never lets up (except for one miraculous sex scene that is probably infamous in some circles). We gradually find out the exposition from news broadcasts, snippets from a police report, and as Jack relates it to Natalie when they have some down time. It’s a unique approach that might be strenuous for some. Jack and Natalie stuck in a car together as the cops bear down on them is the kind of scenario that would have lent itself perfectly to some Tarantino-esque dialogue, but that would have been a totally different movie.

Director Adam Rifkin’s movie is cheap and fast, a deliberate product of a culture raised on MTV, and surely that of an adrenaline-boosted, cocaine-induced film crew. Jerky, zoomed-in handheld shots predating The Bourne Supremacy, and snappy, MTV-inspired editing, come together to form something so magical, that you can literally come in at any point, and know everything that is going on in less than a minute. All to a token ’90s metal soundtrack delightfully composed by Richard Gibbs of Battlestar Galactica fame.

Jack is one guy who just can’t catch a break, and when it rains, it pours. While all the action takes place along a single highway, Rifkin continually raises the stakes with cartoonish embellishments.

A vast number of off-kilter, flamboyant performances to the point of caricature collide in the pot, each threatening to steal the show, but none of them coming out on top.

I feel weird saying it, but Jack’s casual offhandedness (“No offense, but what a dickhead”) and downtrodden “fuck the system” attitude couldn’t have been played by anyone other than Charlie Sheen.

In a squad car hot in pursuit, Henry Rollins and Josh Mostel play beat officers being taped from the back seat a la Cops. Rollins’s steely-eyed officer Dobbs is less a cop and more of a performer at heart playing to the camera, empowered by the sense of “fear and respect” his title holds, and relishing questions about whether or not he’s ever had to kill anyone in the line of duty.

From the Channel 8 Skycopter, a garish, seizing-upon-every-development-with-extreme-theatrics traffic reporter (Rocky Carroll) relates all the action with epic commentary. I would imagine every single one of his lines of dialogue was written with an exclamation mark (“That medical school truck is spilling cadavers all along the freeway!”).

Ray Wise rounds out the cast as Natalie’s multimillionaire dad, looking like he just stepped in from a wormhole that leads to Twin Peaks.

At its highest level, The Chase is a satire of nightly news programs playing to attention-deficit audiences, the kind of dramatization prevalent in reality shows, documentaries hungry for sensationalism, and the media in general, seizing on a story and devouring it like piranhas.

There’s not much more to it, but that’s kind of its beauty.

Josh Medcalf is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

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