"B-grade American Action Movies (BAAMs) aren't supposed to be this good."
- James H.
Director: Steve Wang
Producer: W.K. Border (co-producer), Taka Ichise (executive), Cathryn James (co-producer), Michael Leahy , Don Phillips (co-producer), Joel Soisson (executive)
Writer: Scott Phillips
Action Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Cast: Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, John Pyper-Ferguson, Brittany Murphy, Tracey Walter, James Shigeta, Masaya Kato, Dom Magwili, Ron Winston Yuan
Running Time: 100 min.
Plot: Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos) is on a martial arts mission impossible. With a bio-energy module placed on his chest, Toby's awesome martial arts skills are tuned to a super-human level. The only problem is that Toby doesn't want the power! Now, only an army can stop him, and that's just what's hunting him down. As he makes his escape from an ammo-packing posse of hitmen, Toby needs a hostage, Malik (Kadeem Hardison), to drive him to freedom in Los Angeles.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: Like most, I first saw Drive in its edited, HBO version, which is 16 minutes shorter than the Director's Cut. For everyone out there in the US (or other Region 1 countries) who likes this movie and wants to see it in its uncut form, I highly recommend you pick up a region-free DVD player. The HKL release of Drive: The Director's Cut alone will justify the purchase of this piece of equipment.
The story is the same as in the edited version: Toby Wong is on the run from his former associates, and "recruits" Malik Brody to drive him to Los Angeles. The action is fast and furious, the comedy comes in spades, and from beginning to end it's an enjoyable ride. The most important change in the Director's Cut is the addition of background information to the characters of Toby and Malik.
We learn that Toby had a girlfriend, who was taken from him by his former teammates. This was a missing piece of the puzzle from the edited version. I always wondered why Toby was on the run; if Medicine, Hedgehog, et al were his former teammates, then what exactly had Toby done to make them come after him? And, if he was once one of them, didn't that also mean that Toby was just as evil as Medicine and the rest? But with this addition to the story, that Toby fell in love with an intended victim and then turned against his evil companions, the plot hole is firmly clamped shut.
Just about every fight scene in this movie is excellent. The two highpoints would have to be the battle in the hotel and the final fight with Toby's high-tech "replacement." One great thing about Drive is that the comedy doesn't outdo the violence. In most comedy/action movies, the jokes usually predominate. But Drive complements the jokes with a heavy dose of gore: a guy gets his gun-carrying hand chopped off, and as his hand spins in the air, he's shot with his own gun; Toby turns the weapons of multiple villains upon their users; a goon gets pistol-whipped until his face is a bleeding mess. I also love the perfect mix of martial arts combat and blazing gun battles.
Drive is one of the best action movies out there, and the fact that there's a version available with 16 extra minutes of footage should have fans running for the nearest import DVD dealer (namely, HKFlix.com). The print is crystal clear, and bonus material includes a "Making Of" documentary, as well as Deleted Scenes that didn't make it into the Director's Cut (the 16 minutes that were cut from the HBO version are actually placed back into the movie itself; this bonus, extra footage is mostly made up of rehearsal shots).
Interesting note: the screenwriter had Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone in mind for the starring roles. I prefer Dascosos and Hardison. Sure, they're not as well-known, but they really take to their roles. I just don't see Jackie Chan pulling off Toby's anger and occasional cold-bloodedness (the Director's Cut features a scene in which Toby cries over the memory of his girlfriend; Chan would have looked ridiculous), and I'm positive Stallone would never have agreed to play the (initially) cowardly Malik.
JOE909'S RATING: 10/10
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Further proof, as if any was needed, that the USA has no taste in movies. This miracle of low-budget film making gets a direct-to-video release two years after its completion while theaters are overrun with G-rated animated excretions and non-stop rehashes...oops, I mean "sequels".
There's no justice. None.
The plot is straight out of a bad (read: Marvel) comic book. Toby Wong, a former Hong Kong secret agent, attempts to elude wave upon wave of would-be captors with the goal of selling the bio-energy module in his chest rather than allowing it to fall back into the hands of the government. He enlists the aid of (well, kidnaps, actually) an unemployed man named Malik. Hilarity and chaos ensue. With a movie of this nature, it's easy for Joe or Jane Public to come up with some half-assed attempt to besmirch its good name and deny how fucking good it is. Of course, none of these arguments has any validity.
HALF-ASSED ARGUMENT: The concept of a bio-energy module giving this guy enhanced fighting skills is unrealistic.
FACT: Being unrealistic is by no means a prerequisite for a movie sucking. Plenty of far-fetched movies have raked in oodles of cash at the box office whether they deserved it or not. Look at The Matrix and Face/Off for movies that deserved it. Look at Independence Day and Home Alone for movies that didn't. Of course, in this day and age, the amount of money a film makes is absolutely no indication of its quality, but it's the simplest equation for the common idiot walking down the wrong side of the street to comprehend when he or she is trying to decide if a movie is "good".
HALF-ASSED ARGUMENT: Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison aren't superstars; therefore, this movie can't possibly be any good.
FACT: The basis upon which Hollywood determines who is "superstar" material and who isn't consists almost entirely of sex appeal, which does not have and never has had any impact whatsoever on a person's acting skills (or lack thereof). If you are the type of person who watches movies merely to ogle the sex objects, then you are just another reason why the world is such a moral black hole. Dacascos and Hardison aren't likely to win any Academy Awards, but this is a light-hearted movie and they look like they're having a blast even when they've got guns pointed at them. Jean-Claude Van Damme and his one facial expression would have ruined this movie.
HALF-ASSED ARGUMENT: There's no story and there are too many action scenes.
FACT: When the action scenes are as good as they are in Drive, it's impossible to have too many of them.
There are more half-assed arguments, but the viewpoints of Joe and Jane Public are unworthy of the energy it's taking me to type them.
Drive also features some HK and related pop culture references. Toby Wong (Dacascos) is the name of "that little Chinese girl" to whom Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) refers in the beginning of the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs. When a crooked cop asks for Toby's name, he replies: "Sammo Hung." And, in one action, sequence, Toby and Malik (Hardison) must elude a swarm of bad guys while "handcuffed" to each other, a la Project A Part II (actually the "handcuffs" in question are a pair of metal bracelet-like devices connected by a thick cord which mysteriously increases in length when it suits the need of our two heroes).
Drive also has a spiffy supporting cast, most notably John Pyper-Ferguson, the leader of a pack of hired assassins, and Brittany Murphy, the traditional (?) female who gets caught up in all the crazy shit along the way.
Pyper-Ferguson has many classic lines in this movie. Which of these lines is NOT one of his?
Additionally, Brittany Murphy does a superb job portraying the ditzy (and more than a little promiscuous) daughter of a motel owner as well as the self-proclaimed "ultimate badass bitch!" Which prime-time animated TV series is she a regular cast member of? (Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you can name her character.)
Of course, few action movies are of much value without lots of senseless violence. Which of the following items is NOT used as an implement of pain and mayhem in the EMT nightmare that is Drive?
Unfortunately, no movie is perfect and Drive is no exception. The soundtrack is rife with rap ("crap" without the "c"), amateur karaoke (as if there were some other kind), and even a swiped WWF entrance theme ("Marvelous" Marc Mero's, in the scene where Toby runs out of the bus terminal). The reason for this is probably because:
Speaking of the bus terminal scene, the reason why Toby runs away is because he is followed by three hired thugs whose idea of shadowing somebody is to simultaneously follow him through the gate after a lapse of four and a half seconds, while staying so close together that the average passerby could easily mistake them for conjoined triplets. Why is this so?
Furthermore, Drive ends on sort of an incomplete note, with Mr. Lau plotting more hardship for poor Toby Wong. Could it be that a sequel was in the works? If so, I doubt we shall see it. Why not?
In conclusion, if you enjoy vulgar humor and crazed violence...and who in their right mind doesn't?...you should watch Drive and then watch it again. What is the most suitable form of punishment for people who don't like this movie?
I've included an answer key, but I want to make sure you don't get a chance to look at it while reading the questions.
So I'll just type a few lines now to put some space between the answers and the last question.
La la la la la la la la la la la ...
"I might have to pull out my tiger fists on that cheeseburger." Heh.
I like broccoli.
You heard me, dammit.
OK, that should be enough.
JAMES H'S REVIEW: This isn't right. B-grade American Action Movies (BAAMs) aren't supposed to be this good. They're supposed to be laughable movies with really bad action, special f/x, acting and so forth. This isn't. Sure, the plot is a little outrageous, and a little cliched, but it is executed wonderfully.
The film stars Mark Dacascos as a guy who has this power module in him. The bad guys want it, and he wants to get rid of it. Oh, and this power module makes Mark have super-human strength, agility, what have you. The only thing is, he's got a bunch of hitmen and assassins on his tail, and he needs to get from 'Frisco to L. A. This is where Kadeem Hardison comes in. He's an innocent bystander who gets kidnapped by Dacascos, and is forced to drive to L. A. Along the way they become friends, and get into all sorts of trouble. Sound a little familiar' No' I think it's a bit like "Rush Hour", with the whole buddy formula and all.
Dacascos is, in my opinion, a good actor. Sure, he isn't a Chow Yun-Fat, but he has more charisma than Seagal or Van Damme. The script, naturally, doesn't develop the characters very well, but Dacascos does a good job with the material given to him. He can hold his own, and pulls off a likeable character, but this is not a true representation of his talents. For that, rent "Crying Freeman".
The rest of the cast is good too. Kadeem isn't too annoying. The movie also has Brittany Murphy, who is simply gorgeous and a decent actress. But the acting highlight is John Pyper-Ferguson ("Hard Core Logo"), who plays the head assassin. He was really good, and had the best line in the film ("Well, if it isn't my favourite cheese-eating dick monkey.").
Again, in BAAMs, the action isn't supposed to be very good. In "Drive", it is. It may not be up to the standards of "Drunken Master II" or "Who Am I'", but it is better than, say, "Black Mask". There are plenty of fights and have great choreography and some nifty wire tricks that look better than some of Jet Li's films.
The only hitch is that it still looks like it was made to go straight to video. It's odd because a half-assed film like "Black Mask" gets a theatrical release, but "Drive" stays on the shelf for two years and then goes straight to video. With a bigger budget, this film could have done modestly at the box office. In any event, "Drive" is what "Rush Hour" should have been.
JAMES H'S RATING: 7.5/10