When car movies go bad

This was originally published on Motoring Middle East on 3 October 2011

It’s not too much to ask from our car movies is it? So how could they get it so wrong?

Did you see the movie Drive? Last month I posted a note on the MME Facebook page warning people not to bother.

Not that it was a bad movie, because actually it… er… no it was, in fact, a load of crap, but that’s not the main reason I was warding cinema goers off it. Let me clarify that term too, not ‘cinema goers’ in general, but car people… ie, you and me.

See, there were two very simple reasons that I went to see Drive (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling) – the first was the name of the movie (simply the word ‘Drive’ evoking visions of the 1978 ‘Driver’, starring Ryan O’Neal and the über iconic ‘Vanishing Point’ with Barry Newman); and of course, the movie trailer.

From the latter, the premise (movie stunt driver and moonlighting getaway specialist – the sort that lets his driving do all the talking – takes on the mob to save a family) sounded promising and the trailer was a visual treat of gritty, pseudo-realistic drama, promising some solid wheelman antics, particularly featuring a black current-shape Ford Mustang – and boy do I love Mustangs!

Sadly what little car action you saw in the trailer was not a taster, it was pretty much the lot. There were fleeting glimpses of motoring mayhem, but in a movie called Drive, you are within in your consumer rights to be thoroughly entertained with a load of really hot metal, climate-altering amounts of tyre smoke, sensational drift work, almighty launch ‘em, flip ‘em, roll ‘em smashes and wheel-to-wheel combat of the life and death kind.

Plus a little bit of meaningless dialogue, a plot of sorts, and a leggy blonde in short shorts who at some point has to lean over an open engine bay. And if the tyre-screeching heroics are cool enough, you’ll put up with all the boring bits in between that simply tie the chase sequences together, a bit like watching the Emmanuelle movies (er.. not that I ever did of course!).

Watching Drive was like staring at a kettle, waiting for it to boil. And when it did, all you got was a bit of bubbling and a puff of steam. Then it was all over. No whistling spout, juddering handle or exploding vapour. Talk about an anti-climax!

There will be some cinema buffs who will hail the movie’s Art House subtlety and its attempt to understudy the Stanley Kubrick style of film-making with such long lingering cinematic pauses that rigor mortis had eventually set in. What annoyed me was that titling the movie ‘Drive’ appeared to be a cynical exercise aimed at luring in people like myself looking for their fix of petrolhead escapism. And frankly I resent them exploiting my open shallowness.

And yet, hopes were high because this film arrived on the back of a spate of cool car movies in 2011 including ‘Fast & Furious: Fast Five,’ ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ (hey, it had the ZL1 Camaro and the 458 Italia!), Green Hornet (how can you not adore Black Beauty) and er… Cars 2 (I know it was a kid’s movie, but I enjoyed it!).

The best of the lot though was Drive Angry, which efficiently ticked off all the above stated requirements including the engine bay shot. Utterly fantastical, Nicolas Cage escapes from hell in a cool car (a 1963 Buick Riviera), drives more cool cars (1969 Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 Engine and a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454), kills a lot of people, saves the girls, and drives back to hell in a 1957 Chevrolet One-Fifty. Moral of the story: ‘go to hell, there’s lots of cool cars there’.

Or rather, the way I read it, ‘I must go and buy a 1969 Charger’!

C’mon, tell me you never been taken in? We all want Sean Connery’s Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, and I’ve harboured a life-long lust for the Lotus Esprit that Roger Moore drove into the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me. And what about Steve McQeen’s Bullitt Mustang? Eleanor (1967 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500) from Gone in 60 Seconds? Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Romeo 1600 Spyder Duetto from The Graduate? Or even Burt Reynold’s Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit?

But whatever the star car, whether it’s the ex-cop car from the Blues Brothers, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Lamborghini Countach from The Cannonball Run or even Red Skull’s Hydra car (a sort of custom built 25-foot Monster Merc, which was the real talking point of the Captain America movie in petrolhead forums around the web), it has to fuel the fantasy (pun intended) against a real-world backdrop of the car being made increasingly anti-social.

You and I know that cars are not only faster these days, but they stop, handle, steer, and keep you out of trouble like never before, and yet the speed nannies would love nothing better than to see us crawling in queues ensconced in dressed-up electric karts moving in perfectly computer controlled synchronisation. Like smoking for octane-addicts, driving hard and fast is deemed unacceptable by spoilsports even in an environment where it actually would be safe.

Which brings me to why ‘Drive’ left me in an indignant rage, affronted by its audacity to promise so much and deliver so little and deem that to be alright, because it was being arty. Road and car-chase movies will be our final solace – an important service to the car community of the planet. So next time there’s a blockbuster out with cool cars in it, can someone please let me know in advance if it’s filled with sufficiently copious amounts of carnography, before I head to the cinema?

I thank you!

Oh, and if you disagree with my damming of Drive, say so below, and while you’re at it, tell us your favourite car movies!

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