Compared to most direct to DVD films, Drive Hard proves to be quite entertaining. Overall it’s a quieter character piece with brief spurts of action. It’s all set off by a bank robbery, as John Cusack’s Simon Keller latches onto former racing driver turned driving instructor Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane). His goal is to try and make Jane see where he has gone wrong in his life, and to perhaps push him away from the safe, boring existence he has manage to place himself into.
Their relationship develops from antagonism to a level of grudging respect as they run from the police and the mobsters that are chasing them. The mismatched buddy formula is used to middling effect.
And, somehow, it proves to be quite funny. Not laugh out loud, but enough to cause a brief chuckle here and there. That was much more than I expected from it going in. Usually with direct to DVD films there’s an expectation that it will be universally dire. It’s a good job that the gags were there, otherwise I would have literally nothing good to say about the production.
Thomas Jane and John Cusack are, generally, good value for money in whatever role you give them. In Drive Hard it is no different. Jane’s clearly having fun, even if he feels miscast as the whiny, self-obsessed Peter.
This is one of those strange situations where we’re supposed to empathise with his character. To feel sorry for the fact his wife isn’t sleeping with him; that the future of their relationship hinges on how he feels about her earning more money than him. That he’s soon complicit in Keller’s plan doesn’t sit well. If there was a genuine reason to dislike Peter’s wife, like her having an affair or something, it would have made sense. As it is, she’s a perfectly pleasant woman and any issues they have are seemingly all in Peter’s head.
Put it down to the target demographics. It’s not an excuse for it by any stretch – more a lack of understanding about what makes for a good story. And good characters. And good action sequences. Those are most definitely lacking. To use a driving analogy, it’s like it’s all stuck in second gear and they’re thrashing the engine trying to get more speed out of it. And, crucially, not understanding that they can change gear.
And why does Keller get involved in this? Darned if I know. This is where the script falls on its face. Character motivations are foggy at best. Plus there doesn’t seem to be any genuine point to what’s happening. The closest we get to anything passing for genuine motivation is the gas station guy who, intent on defending his patch, accidentally shoots himself in the face.
Cusack meanwhile is playing to form and doesn’t stretch beyond his usual style. Laconic and hammy he might be, but it does work to the movie’s benefit. It’s not a performance that will go down in the history books as one of his defining moments. But then his delivery emphasises just how much this is supposed to be a lighthearted romp.
So it’s nothing spectacular by any stretch, and the misogynistic background to every female interaction is cringeworthy. But the banter between Jane and Cusack is more than sufficient in isolation. Drive Hard works, but it’s not as engaging as it could have been.
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