Home Video Hovel: Drive Hard, by Craig Schroeder
The opening credit sequence for Drive Hard, an action-comedy from director Brian Trenchard-Smith, sets the table beautifully for what is to come. As the names of John Cusack and Thomas Jane appear, the audience is navigated through a stiff CG jungle of chrome pistons, gears and carburetors that look like they were rendered in Windows Movie Maker circa 2000. There’s not a moment of the opening credit sequence that isn’t dripping with superficiality and poorly composed imagery. The film that follows is similarly shallow, choked with pointless “cool guy” dialogue, insignificant lens flares, nonsensical car chases, and John Cusack being a ham in the worst way possible; all just perfunctory window dressing meant to disguise ninety minutes of cynical, lazy garbage. Drive Hard is the cinematic equivalent of an Ed Hardy t-shirt.
The entire appeal of Drive Hard, right down to its faux-self-aware title, is to harken back to action films of years past. Fans of The Fast and the Furious, Smokey and the Bandit and/or Roger Corman chase movies are sure to recognize entire story beats, action sequences and character arcs lifted and repurposed. Peter Roberts (Jane) is a former race car driver who now works as a driving instructor on the Gold Coast of Australia. Roberts and his car become unwitting participants in a plan, hatched by professional bank robber Simon Keller (Cusack), to rob nine million dollars from a vague criminal enterprise. From there, Drive Hard laboriously ticks off all the boxes that comprise an action movie: chase scenes, shootouts, John Cusack saying “fuck” constantly and, in this case, punching women in the face. Peter and Simon speed through the film while being chased by a number of interchangeable and indistinguishable action movie foes: local police, the Australian mafia (which is really just a bunch of white guys in power suits who also say “fuck” a lot) and the FBI (who have unbelievable agency and power despite being in a foreign country).
Drive Hard isn’t just terrible drama, it’s also vehemently anti-woman. Thomas Jane punches and head-butts a ninety year-old woman, the same woman is called a “cunt” by her husband (for a lark, of course), an unnamed female character is punched in the face by an unnamed male, and every woman in the film is referred to as a “bitch” at least once. Physical violence against woman is used mostly for laughs; emotional abuse against women is not only given full story beats, but condoned by the film itself. Peter, our hero and surrogate, belittles his wife for not having sex with him enough (though, in my opinion, she shouldn’t be having sex with him at all; he’s a huge asshole and a self-obsessed monster). Most of Peter’s motivation as a character (which is foggy at best, but more on that later) is driven by embarrassment that his wife may emasculate him by making more money than he does and having the gall to worry for his safety.
Get two recognizable faces, give them guns, and put them in a shiny sports car. Dialogue, story, and character are all secondary. It’s clear from the start this is the modus operandi for Drive Hard, but it’s disheartening how lazy and cynical the film actually gets. Most plot points hinge on mere coincidence (usually involving some poor soul seeing a wanted ad at the wrong time). Trenchard-Smith, who also co-wrote the film, is constantly finding reasons for his characters to switch into newer, faster cars, in a vain attempt to appeal to valuable demographics. The car chases themselves don’t exist in any recognizable form of space and time. Cars whip through downtown streets, beaches, warehouses and rural farmland in a matter of seconds, as if all of Australia is contained in a single studio backlot.
Thomas Jane and John Cusack are two guys who have been great and are almost always reliable. But Drive Hard is a nebulous black-hole that feeds off of charisma, rendering two charming actors impotent. Jane and Cusack spend ninety-five percent of the film together and have as much chemistry as a mismatched pair of old, dirty sneakers. And if they’re bad as a team, they’re worse as individuals. Cusack, who proved in this year’s Grand Piano that he is capable of playing a menacing figure, has never been more annoying (or less menacing): he wears aviator sunglasses everywhere, won’t stop puffing on a goddamn e-cigarette, and speaks almost exclusively through tough-guy one-liners. Though he is supposed to be a hardened, super-cool criminal, à la Reservoir Dogs, he looks and acts like an every-other-weekend dad, trolling a shopping mall for single mothers. Jane is doing his best, but in service to a terribly conceived character. His motivations are constantly shifting: from hostage trying to survive, to a working class schmo trying to make a few bucks, to burnout trying to relive his glory days, to cuckold trying to send a message to his wife. Peter Rogers is meant to be an everyman but ends up representing nothing.
There is exactly one moment of fun in Drive Hard, courtesy of a clumsy gas station clerk who accidentally shoots himself in the head with his own shotgun. It’s not a great moment. In fact, it (like the rest of the film) is sloppy and hard to read. But it is the best moment of the film. Which is to say: Drive Hard is precisely as much fun as shooting yourself in the head.