Fifteen years ago — ye gods, it’s been 15 years? — the slow Internet thrilled to a new kind of advertising. BMW’s short film series “The Hire” was unusual for two reasons: It peddled product almost no one still stuck to landlines could afford, and it did so via tiny punches of action cinema.
Each installment starred Clive Owen as a mysterious, proto-“Transporter” driver and (more often than not) getaway man. They were helmed not by wet-behind-the-ear up-and-comers looking to break into Hollywood but by some of the world’s most famous auteurs. Ang Lee made one! So did Wong Kar-wai! And Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu! John Frankenheimer filed one of his last efforts with yet another valentine to cars in motion. And Guy Ritchie tortured then-wife Madonna by having Owen knock her about via hairpin turns, all to the celebratory strains of Blur’s “Song 2.”
Back then you had to watch these on a special, clunky player embedded on BMW’s site. The times, they a-changed — though, to nick one from Bob Roberts, now they’re changin’ back, if only a little. “The Hire” has now returned, with Owen — still cucumber cool, still looking great behind a car wheel — for an era in which everything old is predictably new again.
The new episode, called “The Escape,” appears to be a one-off, perhaps to gauge if today’s clickbaiters have the attention for even a 13-minute short in which a helicopter explodes. “District 9”’s Neill Blomkamp is the big wig behind the lens, and though the story involves clones and trigger-happy government officials, he sticks to gunfire and automotive mayhem, not his customary squiggly creatures and jive-talking robots blowing humans into gross bits of spaghetti. Owen is tasked with transporting a clone known only as “Five” (Dakota Fanning) by what appear to be nefarious agents or something. (Vera Farmiga also shows up, though half her screentime is as a photograph.) As usual, Blomkamp is better at destruction than anything else, which means the car you always wanted to test-drive and then not buy gets beat up, though not totaled.
You can watch it below. May we please suggest, if this is a series again, that future installments be directed by any of the following: “The Shallow”’s Jaume Collet-Serra, “Resident Evil” series great Paul W.S. Anderson, “Jack Reacher”’s Christopher McQuarrie, “The Nice Guy”’s Shane Black (for some actual one-liners), Michael Mann (for old time’s sake) and — why not? — Taiwanese master minimalist (and “The Assassin” genius) Hou Hsiao-hsien.