Steve Wang’s “Drive” is an exceptionally entertaining action film, but it’s a miserable everything else. The movie, about a Hong Kong supersoldier who escapes to America with an army of inept bad guys at his tail, would make a fine Jet Li movie, and in fact you get the feeling that lead Mark Dacascos has been directed by Wang to act as if he was Jet Li. I know it sounds confusing, but if you’ve seen any number of Li’s movies, you’ll know what I mean.
Dacascos plays Toby Wong, a Hong Kong agent carrying around a super duper bio-weapon implanted in his chest that allows him to do incredible feats like…well, he really doesn’t do much with it except punch and kick and spin really fast. Regardless, Toby is wanted by the Evil Corporation that put the implant in him, and they’ve spared no expense to get him back alive. Escaping to America, Wong finds help in the form of Malik (Kadeem Hardison), an unemployed barfly who becomes Wong’s unwilling ally. Oh, and if Wong can get to a friendly American corporation in time, they’ll remove the implant from his chest and give him a cool $5 million in exchange.
Let me first say that they don’t make movies like “Drive” anymore. Or at least, they don’t make movies like “Drive” this entertaining anymore. Films like this really makes you wish you didn’t have a brain. The most egregious example of lapses in logic is the fact that the assassins on Wong’s trail are blowing up everything in sight and yet the only time the cops show up is during a shootout at a bar. And even then the presence of the cops is just to justify Wong taking Hardison’s Malik hostage so they can begin that male bonding thing. If a motel by the side of a major Interstate road getting blasted by 3 missiles doesn’t bring the cops, nothing will. It’s a good thing, too, since these bad guys have as much sense of discretion as a 3-ton elephant running through a nursing home.
Of course I’m being unfair by picking on Scott Phillips’ moronic screenplay. Neither Phillips nor director Steve Wang cares enough to even bother to disguise the fact that their movie exists in a bubble where logic no longer exists, so why should I call them on it? As a reward for the audience temporarily removing their brain, Wang has injected the film with intense Hong Kong-style action, which means there’s a lot of posing and a lot of Chinese stuntmen will get kicked, go flying into the air, and do some cool spinning thing before hitting the ground, wall, or whatever is most convenient to be banged against.
John Pyper-Ferguson has the Ugly American role. Not only is Ferguson’s Madison attired in country and western wear, but just in case you don’t get that he’s a racist redneck, he insults anyone who isn’t white and, later in the film, uses a whip to beat a black man. Are we supposed to hate this guy? I think so! As the head mercenary, Madison is ordered to bring Wong back in one piece, although he is allowed to shoot Wong in the legs to subdue him. Which brings me to this observation: Madison and company sure seems arbitrary about the “don’t shoot him above the legs” policy. At one point Madison blows up a motel while Wong is supposed to be in it. At other times Madison instructs his people to shoot Wong only in the legs.
You’ll have to excuse me for trying to inject a bit of reason into one single thing that “Drive” does, because I just can’t help myself. Whatever the case, Mark Dacascos (“Crying Freeman”) is very good in the role of the reformed assassin, although I have to wonder why a guy working as a Red Chinese assassin in Hong Kong is named “Toby”. And while the movie tells us that the implant in Wong’s chest makes him faster and stronger, apparently they lied, because Wong keeps kicking and punching and beating up Madison’s mercenaries, and yet they keep coming and coming and coming! Super strength? I think not.
Kadeem Hardison (“Showtime”) plays the smart-alecky buddy well, and also gets in some good one-liners. His role is pretty much the comedian to Dacascos’ straight man, and the two offers up some decent chemistry. Brittany Murphy (“8 Mile”) shows up as a ditzy motel manager who helps the boys out.
“Drive” is a terrific action film, filled with inspired martial arts sequences. Unfortunately that’s pretty much all the movie has to offer. Mark Dacascos has never looked more “Hong Kong”, even if the actor himself doesn’t actually look Chinese. For that matter, it seems rather odd that all the supposedly Chinese characters are played by Japanese actors. And no, I don’t have to see their real names to know that they’re Japanese, and not Chinese.
On an interesting note, “Drive” features not one, or two, or even three, but four scenes of actors running heroically away from exploding fireballs. Now that has got to be some kind of record.
Steve Wang (director) / Scott Phillips (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Dacascos …. Toby Wong
Kadeem Hardison …. Malik Brody
John Pyper-Ferguson …. Vic Madison
Brittany Murphy …. Deliverance Bodine