Director: Steve Wang            
Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, John Pyper-Ferguson

There's a scene in Drive where Toby Wong (Dacascos) is fighting several people in a bar, who want to capture him alive. When he gets on a pool table, the bad guys surround the table, aim their guns at Toby's legs, and commence firing. But their bullets just hit the table, for Toby has jumped up, done a somersault in the air, and hooked his legs on a ceiling fan above the table. As he does a very fast upside-down 360 degree turn in the air, Toby fires his own gun, blasting all the bad guys around him.

Later in the movie, Malik Brody (Hardison), an ally of Toby, is hiding in an auto repair shop while a professional assault team searches for him. Spying a chain saw (why would a legitimate auto repair shop have a chain saw?), Malik turn on the chain saw and in a quick upwards motion, saws off the arm of one of the members of the assault team. The arm, which is holding a machine gun, makes its own 360 degree turn in the air while the gun is firing, and the bullets splat into the poor one-armed assault team member. Malik then grabs the arm, and tries to remove the gun from it. When he can't pull it off, he tries to bite it off for several seconds, until he realizes what he's doing is very gross and he spits several times.

Spoilers? In a movie like this, no - because Drive is jam-packed with moments like this. Believe it or not, these two scenes don't even begin to describe the outrageousness and hard-core action of Drive. Quite simply, this is one of the best action movies I've ever seen, B-grade or major studio. It's one of the few movies that when I finished it, I rewound it to watch several key scenes again - seldom have I previously done that. The action scenes are first rate, and the movie's perverse sense of humor gives the movie such a bizarre tone, I guarantee you'll never have seen anything like this before. Director Steve Wang, after directing such disappointing and forgettable movies like Adventures of the Kung Fu Rascals, Guyver, and Guyver 2 has finally matured as a director. Well, maybe that's the wrong way to say it - a better way to describe it would be to say that's he's matured in immaturity, exploitation, and being unsubtle. This could be a movie that propels him to the big time.

This Japan/US production starts off in an unidentified port (San Francisco?) in California. (I read a press release that states the movie supposedly takes place in 2008, though there are absolutely no clues for that in the version I saw.) This is where we first see Toby Wong, emerging from the hold of a ship from Asia where he's been hiding. Some armed and unidentified villains are waiting for him, but with a series of superhuman acrobatics and martial arts moves, Toby manages to fight them off and run into a bar, where he encounters unemployed song writer Malik Brody. After fighting off more villains, Toby takes Malik hostage so he can escape from the arriving police. Naturally, Malik isn't enthusiastic at first, but when he discovers that both of them are now under pursuit, he's more willing.

Dacascos is one of the better B movie action heroes on the market nowadays. Not only is he handsome and extremely skilled at the martial arts (he does a lot of his own stunt work here), he can also passably act, all of which he did in the overall good Sabotage. In Drive, he manages to take another step forward, in showing he has a great sense of humor and will allow fun to be poked at him. In one scene at a karaoke club, he even takes the microphone and starts singing and dancing!  Most of the time, he keeps a straight face, which is wise when you have scenes when you claim to a cop that your name is "Sammo Hung". A jokey delivery of a wisecrack like that wouldn't work, but when played straight it's even funnier to the lucky few who get that in-joke. Also, he moves funny. The fight scenes are filmed in the Hong Kong tradition, with fast and furious moves and acrobatics, and with exceptional "wire work". Dacascos' fight scenes are a blast; I was left exhausted by alternately laughing at crazy moments and gasping out loud at an exquisitely choreographed sequence or a moment of extreme violence. Every action scene in the movie is first rate, all leading up a brutal climax that left me as beat as the characters onscreen, but exhilarated.

Make no mistake about it; this is an extremely violent picture. Besides those two scenes I described at the beginning, there are several crotch kicks, people slamming into walls or floors, whippings, explosions, bone crunchings, electrocutions, machine-gun shootings, being hit repeatedly by motorcycles, bazooka firings, pistol whippings - and that's just what comes immediately to my mind. Not only are these scenes violent, but they are lengthy. A middle segment, where Toby and Malik battle their way out of an area under assault from an assault team, lasts 13 virtual non-stop action minutes. The other material during that time is provided mostly by a comic relief woman played by Brittany Murphy. Instead of being terrified or outraged about the subsequent damage, she actually enjoys the experience, at one point picking up and firing a machine gun while shrieking in laughter. ("[I'm] the ultimate bad ass bitch!") This isn't just an isolated example of the movie's bizarre sense of humor - several earlier scenes show assorted clips of a ludicrous TV series, which nothing else in the movie beats for sheer insanity.

And speaking of humor, it's time to discuss the only real flaw of this movie: Kadeem Hardison. Now, I have nothing personal against Mr. Hardison; in fact, from this movie he seems to be a talented and likable actor. Unfortunately, the makers of Drive seemed to have seen that he happens to be black, and then subsequently thought, "Well, in other interracial "buddy" movies, save for the Lethal Weapon and Steve James/Michael Dudikoff movies, the black guy usually talks in a high-pitched voice, frequently whines and wisecracks, and uses a lot of four-lettered words. So I guess we should do that as well." And that is indeed what Hardison's character is like. In fairness to Hardison, he does this kind of character in a fashion significantly toned down from the norm. And he is given a number of genuinely funny lines. One time, when he having another argument with Dacascos, and their conversation starts getting mangled, he yells, "Don't do that Bugs Bunny stuff on me!" I just wish that Steve James (a very underrated action star who never quite got the recognition he deserved) was still alive, and could have taken Hardison's role and done it his way. When James got to do his own thing, he was fast, funny, and great at kicking ass as well. Hell, he might even have acted Dacascos off the screen, like he easily did with Dudikoff.

But I should really be talking about the movie they made, not the movie that could have been. Despite the flaw with Hardison's character, Drive is still an excellent movie, one of the best action movies out there. I'm glad to know that the few other people who have seen this movie also seem to really enjoy it. (See the IMDB user comments on this movie here.) So don't drive by Drive; you won't be able to force your eyes off its road for the entire journey, and it's a hell of a trip to boot.

UPDATE: Marcus Johnson sent this along:

"I'm not sure if any of your other readers have mentioned this before, but I wanted to let you know that a director's cut of Drive is available on DVD in England. It runs about 20 minutes (!) longer than the U.S. release and also features a completely different score (orchestral as opposed to the techno track on the U.S. version). The extra scenes are mostly plot and exposition, but they do enhance the overall experience of the film. For instance, Toby is given more of a backstory and we find out why he left Hong Kong (he became disillusioned with working for the communist government after they murdered his girlfriend). We also learn more about Malik's life and his separation from his wife. In addition to all of this extra footage, probably the most impressive thing about the DVD is that it is a very high quality special edition. The film is presented widescreen at 2.35:1 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a commentary track with Mark Dacascos, Steve Wang, and Kadeem Hardison, a 50-minute long making of documentary, six deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. Pretty impressive for a straight to video action movie. If you can play PAL DVDs I highly recommend getting it, especially since it just got re-released at a budget price (they have it for just 5 pounds at, which I think is about 11 Canadian dollars)."

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See also: Sabotage, The Base, Martial Outlaw