From the man who brought you Leprechaun 4: In Space and BMX Bandits comes Drive Hard, a buddy action-comedy that strives to mock the genre that is a mockery to begin with. Now I love a good, wild buddy movie. Hell, I appreciate a bad buddy movie if it's bonkers. But there's a certain earnestness and chemistry any buddy movie needs to be worthwhile. And Drive Hard has neither. It's dumb. It's ugly. And yet it's not all bad.
Thomas Jane stars as Peter Roberts, an American and former professional racecar driver who now wastes his talents as a driving instructor in Australia. That is until one fateful day when fellow American Simon Keller (John Cusack) turns their lesson into a bank robbery, forcing Peter to play the reluctant getaway driver. Because if you need a getaway driver in Australia, you naturally seek out one who has all the skills of a racecar pro but happens to have the easy-to-kidnap access of a driving instructor.
The plot is stupid in logic, but brilliant in that it allows for a setup that can loop in road trip, chase and buddy-comedy tropes. The two could get into all sorts of wacky diversions along the way of their dodging the authorities. There could be thrilling and insane car chases! There could be rich opportunities for these enemies to become unlikely friends. These opportunities exist, but their execution is downright atrocious. Too much of it looks cheap and feels hackneyed.
Their "wild" ride throws them in the way of a trigger-happy grandma who swears a blue streak, a dangerously uncoordinated store clerk, bloodthirsty bikers and "bank assassins." But the fight scenes that each of these conflicts spur are sloppily choreographed making for a lame flurry of flailing limbs and little palpable violence. Worse yet, the bank robbery scene is shot entirely in close-ups and insert shots of Cusack's hands, a safe being emptied and (most bizarre) a low angle shot of feet running--presumably away from the man with a gun whose proximity to them is never established. It'd have been better to skip this entirely and stayed with the perplexed Peter in the car, then have Simon leap in with a cloth sack that had a big fat dollar sign on the side. At least that would have been a joke aware of itself.
The film stinks of low-budget in every action sequence. The car chases aren't exciting or impressive, and the whole production has the look of a mid-level TV cop drama down to its video look and painfully overexposed aesthetic. But considering Brian Trenchard-Smith has helmed films that revel in their badness, I could believe that elements of this were meant as parody. This would explain lines like "What kind of stupid do you think I am?" or "I know your love is as pure as a cough drop." If this is meant not just as action-comedy but action-comedy parody then those lines are smart in their stupidity.
Likewise, when Cusack screams at Jane, "What the fuck was that? That was fucking garbage?" when the racecar driver/hostage is asked to "act" afraid in a phone call to the cops, that could be considered meta humor. But even if I'm not giving Drive Hard way too much credit with this possibility, it still sucks. Because for as amusing as it is on a so bad it's almost good level, its leads share no chemistry.
There's a lot that doesn't work in Drive Hard. The plot is convoluted, packing in revenge, marital discord, and a good cop versus corrupt cop thread that is never engaging and yet takes up a generous chunk of the 92-minute running time. The cast that surrounds the leads is bland, barely meeting the requirements of animating the tired stereotypes of nagging wife, driven detective, and shady businessman that's demanded. But all of this could have been a part of the junk food enjoyment that can come from watching a bad movie, were it not for the anti-chemistry of Cusack and Jane.
Poor Thomas Jane. He's demanded to make a total fool out of himself in a hideous (and obvious) wig as he spews sloppy dialogue like, "It's a school where people race. Where I teach people to race! It's what I do!" He's wedged into a nonsensical arc that rewards misogyny and pushed to repeatedly do the same dancing to dodge bullets shtick. I'm not sure what he's done to deserve this.
Was The Punisher really that bad?
Cusack on the other hand is the only thing that is consistently entertaining in Drive Hard. With his snarky remarks and bored demeanor in the middle of horrendous crimes, Simon Keller seems like an alias for Martin Blank, the depressed hitman at the center of sharp and silly comedy Grosse Pointe Blank. Actually, imagining they are one in the same made Drive Hard a lot more fun to watch. Maybe give that a shot. It's easy considering Simon's shared preference for black clothes and baseballs caps.
But like Nicolas Cage, no matter how bad the film around him, it's a delight to watch Cusack unfurl his quirky shtick onscreen. No one plays a blasé criminal quite like him. Yet he and Jane never seem to be on the same page, much less the same movie. And so as the film dragged on, I found no way to feel invested in their journeys or final fates.
All in all, Drive Hard is willfully idiotic. It looks cheap and feels half-baked. But what makes it a dud is that its central premise depends on the chemistry of its two leads more than its plot, logic, or stunts. And much as Jane and Cusack are game for this gonzo ride, they never click as a couple.