Movie Review: DRIVE
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Brian Cranston, Ron Perlman, that chick from Never let me go
Stars: 2 out of 5
Oy, what a fucking mess. And I’m not talking about the bloody piles of human goop we’re treated to in every scene for the last half of the movie once director Nicolas Winding Refn gives up on the whole film noir thing and just decides to go with good old buckets-of blood-n’ gore slasher flick. I mean… well, I guess I just explained it. What was the point of this movie? Was there one? I’ll attempt to broach that question later, after I piss and moan about how this movie could have been entertaining and fun, but instead was depressing, needlessly gory, and for the most part, boring.
The movie starts out interestingly enough. Ryan Gosling is a getaway driver for some bad guys. The heist doesn’t go exactly as planned and Ryan and his completely stoic, emotionless face (more about that later) evade the cops throughout downtown L.A. We know, since we read the back of the DVD, that this is his character’s regular nighttime gig. So that scene is pretty cool, and also a big, fat, tease.. More about that later. Next we’re treated to a long opening credit sequence, done with pretty pink fonts and a kickin’ neo-new wave pop tune with moving shots of the L.A. skyline. It’s all very tasteful and effective. It also clues me in to the fact that this movie is going to be filled with more pretense than a Portland coffee house during open mic poetry night. i.e. a lot more style than substance, but that’s what I’m game for, so it’s all good… or so I hoped.
Then, once Winding Refn (or just Refn?) has us interested, he grinds the film to a screeching halt. A solid 45 minutes of what one might call character development, except for the fact that Ryan Gosling had his face surgically altered so that it cannot express joy, anger, jealousy, envy, diarrhea, or any other “hu-man” emotions, as we know it. Seriously.. how the fuck am I supposed to tell happy Ryan Gosling from angry Ryan Gosling to horny Ryan Gosling? (simmer down, ladies). Anyway, Ryan Gosling and his goddamned stone face work as a mechanic for a gimpy Brian Cranston, and he also has a hot neighbor, that chick from Never let me go. No not Keira Knightley, the other one. The gimpy mechanic wants to make a lot of money using Ryan as a race car driver, the neighbor chick wants to make a lot of sexy time using Ryan’s passionately expressionless face for.. well, you can guess.
The neighbor chick has a kid that is clearly of mixed race, and we discover dad is in prison. Ryan is not in prison and doesn’t look like a typical L.A. inmate, so I guess the attraction is obvious. At least it should be, but the director wasn’t so sure you got it, so during a scene when they are in the car, we get to see her hand grab his, for at least a full 20 seconds. Now this may not sound like a long time, but go ahead and sit there and count to 20.. and think about a static shot of a hand on another… wait.. got it yet? OH OK.. I GET IT!!
The romance is short lived though, because neighbor chick sheepishly tells him her husband is getting out of prison. This upsets him, I guess, although it might just be that he’s all in with a pair of jacks. So, in case the protracted hand-holding scene and the painfully awkward “my old man is back and town, sorry no (more?) boinking” dialogue haven’t clued you in on this doomed love angle, we get interspersed shots of the chick’s visibly depressed face and Gosling’s stone dead possibly turning to cement face during the husband’s welcome home party, all the while treated to another indie-pop tune with lyrics, and I’m not shitting you, that go “Can’t get you off my mind.” OHHHH I GET IT!!!
Have I mentioned at this point we’re about a full hour from the decently exciting opening scene and the movie has now slowed to the pace of a three-toed sloth in a coma trying to get a consumer protection bill through congress? Well, finally something interesting, albeit stupid, emerges in the plot. It turns out that neighbor chick’s husband had to pay protection money in prison, and now the price he owes has gone up to an exorbitant amount. What might our (hero?) do at this point? Well, in the real world, he might say.. well this works out great. The mob kills this pesky husband, I can move in on this piece of neighbor tail. But no. It turns out our (hero??) isn’t real bright. His idea is to help the husband rob a pawn shop and be the getaway man, with no payoff except the mob leaves the neighbor chick’s family alone. **SPOILERS AHEAD**
Where it goes from here is pretty predictable, but at least we get another car chase. The heist goes bad, people get shot, Ryan Gosling survives, then something very common in modern fimmaking happens. The director completely runs out of ideas and the entire movie turns to liquified shit. All the underworld figures are revealed. There’s a tough talking Ron Perlman, who seems to be the henchman for Albert Brooks, a movie producer turned quasi-L.A. mobster. In a sort of asinine “twist,” Ron Perlman talks tough but doesn’t kill anyone, and in fact seems sort of grossed out by blood and violence. Albert Brooks goes on a Jack the Ripper freebasing-like killing binge. Wait.. Albert Brooks?? This guy?? That’s different, I guess. Brooks is like everyone’s favorite neurotic Jewish uncle and Ron Perlman is the scariest looking human being on the planet. We also get treated to a scene where Gosling stomps a guy’s face in until he’s got his foot stuck in some kind of red velvet pudding, all the while his expression revealing.. well, still nothing. Unfortunately the neighbor chick is stuck in the elevator with him when this happens, and when she gets out she has the best look in the film.. like “Well, you are hot, but I’m not sure I’m really trading up here.”
As the film unravels from one pointless gory scene to the next, we get the coup de gras, a fight to the death scene between Brooks and Gosling. Sigh. Let’s just pretend this happened in the real world for a second. It would go something like this.. Ryan Gosling would cock his fist back and Albert Brooks would either fake, or really have a cardiac episode and pass out. But in Hollywood, or in this case “Indie-wood,” the director attempts to stretch our suspension of disbelief somewhere beyond the scope of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. Some very mediocre mid 90s film had a final battle scene where an ancient James Caan was kicking the shit out of Arnold Schwarzenegger until Arnold distracted him then hit him from behind with something. Now, like then, I call bullshit. So after this final Albert Brooks boss battle, an injured Gosling drives off, and now I have a confession to make. The screen goes completely black for a full 5 minutes and another indie-pop tune comes on. I am not sure if this was by design, or because my version of the DVD was pirated and given to me as a white elephant office Christmas gift (I of course have since destroyed it and notified the proper authorities). So in short, no idea what happens, why, or most importantly, why I should care.
Movies don’t necessarily need a central theme to be good, but they usually have a fucking point. What was this movie’s? Crime is bad, mmmkay? L.A. is a dangerous place? Ryan Gosling shows no emotion, even when he’s murdering you? The dating pool is pretty weak for single moms? What exactly was Winding Refn trying to tell us, other than he can make Ryan Gosling refuse to emote, and slather the screen with dump trucks of blood while appearing all hip and indie-like? Didn’t Tarantino corner that market then play out that whole genre? I seriously don’t get it. This film got nominated for all kinds of awards. I give it my “best attempt to turn a decent car-chase flick into a boring, pointless, gore porn exercise… starring Ryan Stoneface Gosling.” I give it 4 extended middle fingers out of a possible zero. Bottom line: Ok.. it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. But it was damn disappointing, and that’s what pisses me off the most. The “fun” moments are separated by intolerably long swaths of nothing, or bloodbaths. Most of which were completely unnecessary. So here’s a hint: When a director is trying to be “edgy,” by a) having some bullshit 3-part name with an action verb in it, or b) raining down blood and guts to reinforce a non-existent point, the critics will love it…but you might not.