Film Reviews

Shouldn't a Movie Called Drive Hard Be More Mad?

First there was The Driver, then there was Drive Angry and then there was Drive. Now there's Drive Hard — because why not? Thomas Jane plays former race-car driver Peter Roberts, now a married dad who runs a not-so-successful driving-instruction school in Gold Coast, Queensland. His crisp, business-y, chief-breadwinner wife does nothing but nag him, and he's way behind on his daughter's private-school tuition. But his life, or maybe just his week, is changed when a twitchy weirdo in a black baseball cap shows up for a lesson: Simon Keller (John Cusack) is an American who just wants to learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Or so he says. Keller knows Roberts is a guy who can put the pedal to the metal, and so within minutes, he's made Roberts an unwitting accomplice in a big-time bank robbery.

Roberts isn't too happy about this new role, but something like Stockholm syndrome kicks in. As the two try to stay a kilometer or two ahead of the good cops, the crooked cops and the crime hotshots who own the bank, Keller and Roberts talk and talk. They drive, too, but most of their energy is devoted to bonding. Chiefly, Keller advises Roberts to go back to racing as a way of earning back his wife's respect. When Roberts explains that quitting was her idea, Keller lays out his logic: "They don't want you to do what they say! That's Woman 101!" Whatever that means.

Other stuff happens: They pull into a respectable-looking rural restaurant and provoke the wrath of its gun-totin' elderly proprietress. They tangle with a convenience-store clerk and, before they know it, there's blood splattered everywhere. They take extremely sharp turns, their tires screech and they ruin the shocks of every vehicle they appropriate: This is what happens when you drive hard.

Drive Hard isn't really true exploitation; it's really just sort of exploitish, a somewhat clumsy blend of action, cartoonishly grim violence and wry comedy. The director is Brian Trenchard-Smith, whom Quentin Tarantino has cited as one of his favorite obscure filmmakers. (Tarantino expresses special fondness for Trenchard-Smith's 1986 Dead End Drive-In, which is based on a Peter Carey short story.) If you're not expecting too much, Drive Hard is mindlessly entertaining, but it lacks that spark of madness that might have made it truly fun. At least Cusack is able to shed some of his usual overseriousness. As Keller, he gets to fire a gun, repeatedly, and the freedom to just be bad puts a spring in his step, at least in those moments where he's not buckled in. Jane's role is less fulfilling: He's the nice, insecure guy with shaggy hair who gets stuck doing the driving. To that end, we get an inexplicable number of shots of his sneakered foot hitting the gas pedal. Occasionally, he makes noise about wanting nothing to do with this bank-robbing nonsense. But there's really not much for him to do in this role. It's a pitiably unjust punishment for the Punisher.

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Stephanie Zacharek was the principal film critic at the Village Voice from 2013 to 2015. She is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and of the National Society of Film Critics. In 2015 Zacharek was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

Her work also appeared in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer and OC Weekly.