Saturday, 19 January 2013

Drive (1997)

It's a bit of a shame, really, that 2011 saw the release of such a great movie called Drive. That means that this movie will almost always be referred to from now on as "Drive, no not that one, ANOTHER one". It doesn't deserve such treatment because it happens to be one of the best little action movies that action movie fans failed to give their full support to.

Mark Dacascos stars as Toby Wong, a man who has been (here comes the science bit) enhanced with some gadget thingummybob in his chest. This means that he can punch, kick and throw down loads of people whenever he needs to. It comes in very handy because he needs to do that quite a lot, thanks to the fact that a number of folk are after him in order to retrieve their technology. In between fights, Toby does try to run away and avoid confrontation and that's how he encounters unfortunate Malik (Kadeem Hardison), the man who ends up being his temporary hostage and driver. Malik soon discovers that the bad guys don't actually want to kill Toby, because of the technology inside him, but they couldn't care less about him catching a stray bullet.

While it may not be non-stop action from start to finish, Drive is nicely paced throughout. The first half of the movie has two or three decent fight sequences while the second half has one stunning (literally!) showcase before leading viewers to a finale that piles on the pain and the stunt work for an energetic 20 minutes of superior action entertainment.

In between the fights, Dacascos and Hardison have good chemistry, riffing off each other nicely and keeping things vibrant even while more impatient viewers may simply be waiting for the next rumble. Brittany Murphy is adorable and entertaining in a small role as a kooky teenage lass who runs a motel that the guys end up stopping at and John Pyper-Ferguson and Tracey Walter make a great, quirky, pair of villains until big bad Masaya Kato comes along to well and truly kick some ass.

This may have been the first script by Scott Phillips that was made into a movie but a quick glance at his filmography shows that he may have peaked with his debut. There are no major surprises here but it does what is required of the subgenre and it does it brilliantly, even in a scene that has Mark Dacascos mugging for all he's worth while singing karaoke.

Steve Wang certainly knows how to deliver the goods and the fantastic fight scenes (as over the top and slick as they may be) are elevated by great coverage. In fact, I remain convinced to this day that one of the fights was lifted (homaged?) to be used in Blade II. Not that I have a problem with that, there were enough differences to ensure that it didn't look EXACTLY the same, but it's just another example of Drive being sadly missed when it hit the rental and retail market.

It's a shame that Dacascos was never a bigger star. He had a couple of close calls and he shows here that he has the mix of skills and likeability. Drive remains his finest hour. It certainly showcases his skills far better than Iron Chef.


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