I really wanted to like Drive, which was supposed to be an art-house answer to car chase movies according to other reviewers. The way I understood it, Drive was like Bullitt crossed with La Dolce Vita. To me that was a stretch.
The movie centers around Ryan Gosling’s freelance career as a driver for various criminal activities. By day he’s a Hollywood stunt driver often outfitted with a rubber mask resembling Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. By night, he skillfully motors cash-carrying criminals through various locales to safety. He’s also a daytime mechanic.
Gosling’s aptly named Driver character gets caught up in a heist that ultimately kills his neighbor, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who was just released from jail. Driver was attempting to help Standard pay off a debt owed to jailhouse collectors. Along the way, we’re treated to the grisly deaths of Blanche (played by a trashy-looking Christina Hendricks from TV’s Mad Men) and an incredibly malevolent Albert Brooks. Even when Brooks is dropping f-bombs, before he dies painfully, I can’t help but think of Brooks voicing Nemo’s dad.
This moody picture did feature some clever cinematography, as best exemplified by a supermarket scene early on where I found myself marveling at the beautiful colors of the dishwashing soap containers. But as nice as the coloring was, this flick was rear-ended by its poor dialogue. Throughout, long stretches of silence between the characters left me wanting to yell, “Somebody say something!” When the characters do talk, the speaking is peppered with meaningless f-bombs. Classically trained actor Ron Perlman (his voice has been featured on SpongeBob) delivers the most memorable foul language here.
Gosling’s flat performance left me not rooting for him. Throughout, he does chew a toothpick better than anyone besides Dusty Baker, but that wasn’t enough to make me care about him.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn does create an intense atmosphere throughout, including drum-driven, ‘80s-sounding ambience that put me on the edge of my chair for no apparent cinematic reason. My notes from early on say “Tense but not sure why?”
Refn does a great job of painting the glittery downtown of Los Angeles, including the shiny Staples Center area, juxtaposed with the grimy outer neighborhoods filled with marginal restaurants and seedy apartment complexes. Several times I was reminded of Pulp Fiction during these underbelly sequences. Refn also has a soft spot for early 1970s muscle cars, plenty of which are on display here, although Driver does some primary work on a doctored-up, late-model Chevrolet Impala, which we also learn is the most popular car in the state of California.
Even though I thought there would be more car chases in this movie, I was still compelled to speed and swerve dangerously down Plainfield Road after it ended. Luckily I resisted this urge.
“The director wants you to please sign this waiver in case you die, get maimed or seriously injured” — a studio employee to Driver.
“He asked me for my help, and everything went wrong. I’m sorry” — Driver informing Standard’s wife that Standard was shot dead.
Other observations at the cinema:
- The best thing I’ve seen and heard about movies lately: “From the Mind of Hunter S. Thompson” — in the trailer for The Rum Diary featuring Thompson’s real-life buddy Johnny Depp.
- A dozen people saw this movie with me (10 a.m. Saturday), while down the hall at Lion King 3D, there were at least 60 (lots of kids). All the kids appeared to be enjoying the breakfast staples of popcorn and Twizzlers.
- The first showing of the day is a mere $5.25 at Cinemark. That’s cheaper than a Happy Meal.
- In the six days since I saw Contagion, Hollywood managed to prepare four new previews for four upcoming flicks. What recession?
Bike messengers finally get their day at the movies in the upcoming Premium Rush. I’ve long admired these modern day gladiators as the true heroes of capitalism, especially the ones that “skeech” on ice behind CTA buses on Michigan Avenue.