Friday, March 14, 2008

Drive (1997)

The Action Mutant…
wonder’s when he will stop worrying and love the bomb.

Drive (1997)

review by Joe Burrows

You know that whole “Don’t judge a book by its cover” adage? The same goes for Action films and their generic titles. It’s a well known fact that 99% of all films in the Action genre are afflicted with Titlus Genericus (har har), which leads credence to that whole “big, dumb and loud” ideal the genre carries with it. Hell, it was once said (with a slight modicum of seriousness) that Seagal’s flicks were so successful in part because they had three words or less in the title. Hmmmm, no wonder Under Siege 2: Dark Territory wasn’t as successful as the first! Regardless, just because an Action film has a relatively B movie cast and a generic title to boot, doesn’t exactly mean doom for the viewer. You might just miss one of the most insane Action romps that I’ve witnessed in quite some time!

The Plot, as it was:
Mark Dacascos (Only the Strong, China Strike Force) is Toby Wong (Did anyone on the crew watch Reservoir Dogs?), a guy that happens to have a Chinese government licensed “bio-engine” pack implanted in his chest. This gives him superhuman athletic ability, which he uses for some amazing acrobatics and martial arts. He wants to sell the pack to a corporation in Los Angeles but the developers from China are a bit miffed that he chose that route. Hunted down by gun for hire Vic (John Pyper-Ferguson) and his goons, Toby takes unemployed barfly Malik (Kadeem Hardison) hostage and drives off with him. Of course, Malik objects to this obstacle in his day but soon finds him aiding Toby at every turn. Add in a kooky hotel clerk (Brittany Murphy) with a penchant for excitement and another “bio-engine” enhanced fighter as an enemy (Masaya Kato) and you have yourself one crazy, messed up DRIVE!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Where has this movie been all of my life? I haven’t been this blown away by an Action sequence (and ANY from this film will do) since the hallway brawl in Oldboy. I have no qualms whatsoever by saying this; screw logic, screw plot and screw dialogue (though a lot of that’s pretty funny throughout)! Just watch this film go from one mind bending Action set piece to the next without any guilt. Dacascos and Hardison make for a good team and the one liners come fast but don’t overshadow everything. One can nitpick and point out the lack of characterization and other story holes (Why does Toby, who’s from China, speak clearer English than anyone in the film?) but then you wouldn’t be having any fun. Whether it’s Toby hanging from a ceiling lamp by his legs and taking out hitmen with Uzis or fighting off taser armed baddies with boots on his hands, Drive manages to make you think that the previous Action moment can not be topped…only to go over the top with gusto. The sense of humor breezes along and even the groaners are funny because it’s obvious this is not to be taken seriously (“Now that’s called eating pavement!”). The only small issue depends on how you take Murphy’s “eccentric” hotel clerk. This is another one of her “I’m going to act skittish and ditzy and I’ll completely flake out at any moment” performances and it may grate on your nerves if you don’t generally care for her act (I didn’t mind but I agree that she had the right amount of screen time because more would have pushed it). However, in the end, the main mission of an Action film is to provide a sense of motion for a sustained amount of time. I’d go even farther in saying that Drive is the closest a North American Action production has gotten in making a Hong Kong style Action film. You may think that’s a slight but after watching Drive, you’ll see that it definitely isn’t.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- You may recognize Tracey Walter (Hedgehog), as he was the legendary Bob the Goon in 1989’s Batman. Ok, maybe not legendary.

Body Count/Violence: 22. Saying this film is action packed may be an understatement. The fights are done at blazing speed and include crazy falls, plenty of furniture and weapon use (tasers, poles, whips, motorcycles, machetes, wrenches, bazookas, explosives, etc.). Lots of gunplay as well, including a memorable scene where a bad guy gets his hand cut off by a chainsaw and is taken out by his own gunfire as the hand spins upside down in the air! This doesn’t even scratch the surface but I’m sure you’ll be satisfied.

Sexuality/Nudity: None. Doesn’t need it.

Language/Dialogue: Strong at times but never overwhelming.

How bad was it?:
Every critic I read was pretty well blown away by it as well. Don’t check your Eberts or Travers though because this wasn’t widely seen by anyone because…

Did it make the studio’s day?:
NEO Motion Pictures, the production company to such films as American Yakuza and Phantoms (“Word, bitch! Phantoms like a motherfucker!”), produced Drive with a budget of $3.5 million. Through forces that I can only figure to be unexplainable, the film never got picked up by a big studio distributor and ended up under the Ardustry Home Entertainment label. It was premiered on video in America on 8/11/98 in the 100 minute version that I reviewed, as there is a Director’s Cut on Region 2 DVD. Its 112 minutes and adds in some of that characterization that I mentioned above, plus an orchestral score. Damn regions! In all honesty, try and track this film down in any version you can find it.

Film: ****/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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