THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Drive Hard is an incredibly dumb movie, although, to its credit, it's kind of agreeably dumb. I can think of films half as dumb as this one that are more tedious to sit through. But don't mistake that for a recommendation. Drive Hard is the kind of movie you walk away from asking, “What was that?” A plot synopsis makes it sound like the film is going to be a certain kind of thing, when in reality it's an amalgam of several things. This approach virtually ensures that a viewer looking for any one of those things will walk away massively disappointed.
Thomas Jane stars as Peter Roberts, a former race car driver-turned-driving instructor. One morning, he gives a lesson to Simon Keller (John Cusack). It does not go well. Simon, who perpetually wears a ball hat and sunglasses, is a terrible driver who can't get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. (This movie inexplicably takes place in Australia.) During the lesson, Simon stops to rob a bank, then forces Peter at gunpoint to be his getaway driver. Via a long, awkwardly-staged exposition dump in the car, we learn that Simon is attempting to exact revenge against a corrupt businessman who screwed him over during a diamond heist. He needs Peter to make sure he can carry out his plan. Meanwhile, a federal agent and members of the mob begin pursuing them, while the media reports on their flight.
Now from that, you might reasonably assume Drive Hard is another vehicular action picture, not unlike that ghastly Ethan Hawke/Selena Gomez movie Getaway. But, no, this is actually sort of a comedy that tries to get its own Midnight Run vibe going. Simon's revenge scheme is set up, then put on the back burner in favor of scenes in which he and Peter drive around bickering at each other in pseudo-comic fashion. Occasionally they get out of the vehicle for some kind of wacky misadventure, such as the scene in which a couple of profane senior citizens recognize them from the news and open fire. Other times, it becomes a bit of a drama, as Simon dispenses relationship advice to Peter, whose total shrew of a wife believes he robbed the bank.
Because it (pun intended) goes down so many side roads, Drive Hard really ends up (pun not intended) going nowhere. It doesn't work as an action film because there's very little action in it. This is not another Two-Lane Blacktop or Death Proof; the chase scenes are about as exciting as a Sunday drive with your elderly grandmother. It doesn't work as a comedy either, because nothing here is especially funny. Midnight Run managed to get the buddy-movie chemistry just right. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (BMX Bandits, Leprechaun 4: In Space) allows – and possibly even encourages – Jane and Cusack to ham it up for the cameras like there's no tomorrow. Both men cheerfully overact, yet do so to the point that we're not watching interesting characters, we're watching two good actors do poor work.
The comedy prevents the action in Drive Hard from being engaging, and the surprisingly graphic violence feels out of place among the broadly silly bits. The cat-and-mouse chase between law enforcement and criminal is barely developed, while the relationship drama between Peter and his wife is so paper-thin that it carries no weight whatsoever. Drive Hard, right down to its title, feels like the work of a computer program that analyzed dozens of popular movies in different genres, then self-generated a screenplay that tried to incorporate elements from all of them. The resulting concoction is an oddly fascinating, yet thoroughly underwhelming mess.
( 1/2 out of four)
Drive Hard is unrated, but contains adult language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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