This isn’t to suggest that I prefer pictures of substance or vice versa. (Seriously, I love all kinds of flicks, from the silly to the profound.) My point is that everything that transpires cinematically between the opening and closing credits needs to both have and follow some intrinsic logic. There must be a path to follow, and that path should make perfect sense. If something causes me to pause intellectually – to question how that could, would, or should happen – then I, as a viewer, have been effectively pulled out of the vicarious experience you’ve created. I’m no longer along for the ride, as they say, and I’m on my own unofficial pit stop trying to make sense of what I just saw for logic’s sake. Yes, that may be the wrong framework with which to view a work of fiction, but it’s just how my brain is wired.
So, yes, when regular wooden tables defy the laws of nature and can somehow be shown to either stop or deflect bullets shot at point-blank range, I’m inclined to take one of those aforementioned breaks. Sadly, this happens many, many times throughout Drive (1997), one of the less sane actioners to come out of the late 1990’s. By the time this buddy movie hit silver screens, I think the celebrity pair-up trend had lost a bit of its steam, so maybe that kept some from exploring its lesser delights. Though I suspect everyone in it has done better work, perhaps they collectively never had as much fun as they did when stars and fists collided, kicks were launched, bullets were fired, and a fake rocket nearly blasted into the sky during the making of this bizarre road trip.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“When special agent Toby Wong is fitted with an advanced bio device giving him superhuman powers he fears that he and the new technology will be exploited for ill gain when the Chinese government takes back control of Hong Kong. Fleeing to San Francisco he plans to sell the device to a company in Los Angeles but when he teams up with down on his luck singer Malik he finds himself being pursued by ruthless assassin Madison and his band of mercenaries.”
I’ve never been much of a fan – casual nor hardcore – of Hong Kong storytelling sensibilities.
That’s the case with Drive, an occasionally clever SciFi-lite potboiler written by Scott Phillips and directed by special effects wizard Steve Wang. The film cleverly incorporates some fantastic ideas –Dacascos’ ‘ultimate warrior’ is fueled by a new generation of biological mechanics that give him incredible speed and strength, and there may or may not be a conspiracy behind the Chinese government’s desire to control its ongoing development – along with the proven Hollywood formula of the quintessential buddy picture. IMDB.com reports that this was Phillips motion picture debut (he’d go on eventually to a creative stint aboard Fantasy’s Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight), so it’s kinda/sorta hard to blame him for all of the narrative hiccups here, though I’ve no doubt he earned his fair share of the blame. Wang – as the picture’s grand marshal – more likely put Drive into high gear with the extended focus on fight sequences; many of them are quite good, displaying a prowess for using an actor’s physical stature to achieve maximum velocity.
With this being the case, Mark Dacascos makes for a compelling lead. As our good guy Toby Wong, he uses his good looks and chop-socky know-how to both get into and out of most of the chaos, though I’d argue he could’ve used a bit more charm along the way. (Some of his delivery is a bit wooden, at times.) Thankfully, producers paired him up with funnyman Kadeem Hardison; and their screen partnership does go a long way toward smoothing over some of the yarn’s illogical road bumps. Like all good collaborations, they’re better when they’re together – bigger, stronger, faster – so the script puts them through their paces after the characteristically haphazard courtship.
Alas, the biggest roadblock to enjoying this particular road trip is also what makes fans of traditional Hong Kong storytelling go gaga: the story is more of an excuse to stage from elaborate fight sequences than it ever is to … well … really tell a tale. Locations – like a tight motel room, an oceanfront tavern, or a nearby automotive garage – are utilized to add ‘depth’ to the various gun and fist battles (instead of serving as violence growing organically out of these slim plot points). Clearly, Wang knew what he wanted to deliver – namely as excuse for more gunplay and throwdowns – and fans of this kind of thing lap it up without wondering just how such sequences could possibly play out in reality. Literal characterization doesn’t matter, not when characters only show up to exchange blows … which happens at exactly the pace the formula requires.
How can I be so sure?
See what I mean? Characterization doesn’t matter. Laughs do … and that largely kept Drive out of the fast lane a bit too consistently.
Drive (1997) was produced by Overseas FilmGroup and NEO Motion Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release is being coordinated via the reliable people at MVD Entertainment and 88 Films. As for the technical specifications? While I’m not trained video expert, I thought this brand-new 4K scan – reported to be from the original camera negative – looked and sounded very solid from start-to-finish. (There was a slight dip in the audio levels at one point, but it only lasted for one sequence, making me assume it was some flaw in the original recording.) Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then behold:
- The collection offers up the original theatrical cut of the film (100 minutes) as well as an Extended Director’s Cut (118 minutes), with the Director’s Cut presented in full 2:35:1 aspect ratio (and it looks damn fabulous, if I do say so myself);
- Multiple audio track presentations so that you can find one that fits your entertainment needs;
- Audio commentary track with director Wang, fight choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, and stars Dacascos and Hardison;
- A few ‘making-of’ shorts
- A 45-minute ‘making-of’ documentary;
- Delected scenes;
- Cast and crew interviews (many of which are either repeats or extended visits already featured in the supporting shorts);
- The theatrical trailer; and
- Collectible artwork from artist Sam Gilbey.
Drive isn’t as much a mess as its script clearly is, and that’s mostly because the picture is capably carried both on the shoulders of its main two players (Dacascos and Hardison) as well as their shared screen charm. Brittany Murphy shows up, curiously delivering only comic relief from an already funny feature, so I saw her contributions as damn near unnecessary. The equally talented Tracey Walter and John Pyper-Ferguson get wasted as stock villains with far too many tools in their mobile arsenal. (Really? A whip? Out of nowhere? Who takes a whip into a bar fight?) Still, there’s an audience for this schlock – you know who you are already – and I’ve no doubt they’ll jump at the chance to experience a viewing of this meager accomplishment. A bit goofy and more than a bit loony at times, Drive needed more ‘umph’ for this viewer.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at 88 Films provided me with a complimentary Ultra HD Blu-ray of Drive (1997) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.