Sex DriveReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/17/08 00:11:47
When I was as young as two years old, according to family legend, I developed such a fascination with automobiles that I could identify certain makes and models simply by looking at their hubcaps. Over the years, however, this particular obsession did wind up falling by the wayside--so much so, in fact, that I have been driving the same car for the last five or six years and I still have a tendency to blank on what it is--but I still retain enough of that initial childhood enthusiasm to feel a sort of emotional response whenever I see a truly prime piece of rolling stock, whether it is tooling down the highway, parked in a garage or making an appearance in a movie. One car that definitely provokes that kind of reaction is the GTO, a line of cars produced by Pontiac from 1964-1974. Generally considered to be the first muscle car produced by a major auto manufacturer, it was designed by Pontiac to emphasize street performance over all other aspects in an effort to attract. Because of my basic ignorance of all things mechanical, I couldn’t begin to explain what made this car so great (though I am certain that there are any number of places on the Internet that could help you in that regard) but I can tell you that if you are lucky enough to see one--whether it is live in person or on the screen in a film like the classic 1971 existential road movie “Two-Lane Blacktop,” where one was piloted by the late, great Warren Oates--even the least mechanically inclined among you will find yourselves thinking “Now that is a car!”At this point, some of you may be wondering why you are sitting here reading these faux-gearhead ramblings about a car that disappeared from the marketplace long before most of you were probably born instead of the promised review of the raunchy new teen comedy “Sex Drive.” Well, for one thing, a 1969 GTO Judge plays an important role in the proceedings of the film (and actually delivers a better performances than most of the flesh-and-blood actors) and just the sight of it was enough to inspire me to indulge in reveries regarding the glory days of the American hot rod and old Warren Oates movies. For another thing, the movie itself is so terrible that I would prefer to spend my time writing about the glories of the GTO than to actually delve into the nuts and bolts of the film and lay out in explicit detail why it is such a lousy and lazy excuse for entertainment. Alas, those in charge are demanding an actual review, so I guess I will have to indulge them. However, for those of you with enough taste and dignity to realize the “Sex Drive” is not your cup of tea, feel free to duck out at this point to either continue your research into the GTO or, better yet, track down a copy of “Two-Lane Blacktop”--whichever you choose, I can assure you that your time will be better spent than watching even a few minutes of this film.
“Sex Drive” stars Josh Zuckerman as Ian, a nerdy-but-naïve high school senior who comes fully equipped with every accoutrement befitting such a familiar character trope--a super-hot babe, Felicia (Amanda Crew), that he is only “just friends” with, a crudely obnoxious best pal, Lance (Clark Duke), whose shameless belief that he is the new Jonah Hill somehow makes him catnip with the ladies, an obnoxious older brother (James Marsden) who continually showers him with homophobic insults, a younger brother who does better with the ladies than he does and a stepmother-to-be who finds herself the butt of a string of scatological sight gags that start with befouled underwear and go on from there. Worst of all, Ian is still--hold on to your hats--a virgin and fears the social ostracism that will no doubt accompany such an admission when he goes off to college at the University of Wisconsin in the fall. (Trust me, if you are going to college in Wisconsin, virginity is the least of your problems--I kid, I kid!) Anyway, when he isn’t busy spending his days working at the mall wearing a large donut suit to pass out coupons and his nights striking out at teen bacchanals that resembles a cross between a idealized night at Hef’s place and the orgy scene from “Caligula,” Ian has also been cultivating an Internet friendship with an alleged hottie known as Miss Tasty. Of course, he is just as inept on-line as he is in person but it must come across better in print--or maybe it is the jock body that he has clumsily Photoshopped his head onto--because she invites him to drive out in the GTO (which actually belongs to the homophobic brother) from the suburbs of Chicago to Knoxville, Tennessee with the promise of unbridled carnal delights upon his arrival.
With Felicia and Lance in tow, Ian snakes the GTO, heads off for Knoxville and runs into a series of plot developments that are stolen outright from at least two generations of teen sex comedies. From “The Sure Thing,” we get the basic premise of a guy traveling halfway across the country in order to have sex with someone who seems to be, well, a sure thing. From “Risky Business,” we get the notion of a nerdy guy trying to bust out of his sexual shell and the sight of a pristine and vaguely phallic automobile getting banged up in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. From “American Pie,” we get the sight of our hero being placed in the center of a number of sexual humiliations ranging from being repeatedly caught in compromising positions by his stepmother to finding himself lured onstage to take a chastity pledge while sporting a protuberance that one does not normally associate with chastity pledges. Even the films of Kevin Smith get poached here with the addition of a pair of horny pals turn up everywhere to spout off scatological verbiage in the manner of Jay and Silent Bob--the only difference is that these guys are at least nine times more obnoxious than J&B and never supply a single authentic laugh as far as I can recall. The film also makes room for more generic clichés as well: Ian unwittingly winds up at the wrong end of a glory hole-equipped public toilet (don‘t ask, Felicia inadvertently flashes an entire family while trying to pee into the car’s radiator (again, don’t ask), Lance finds himself handcuffed to a bed by a hottie who is about to perform a “rolling brownout” on him (I’m serious, don’t ask!) and they are all set upon by a weirdo hitchhiker (David Koechner). Oops, almost forgot the extended detour in which our heroes hook up with a bunch of hard-partying Amish kids indulging in the time-honored tradition of Rumspringa (look it up), depicted here as a Mecca of booze, boobs and the music of Fall Out Boy (in an inexplicable cameo) where lothario Lance finds true love with Mary (Alice Greczyn), who hasn’t let her simple and homespun upbringing get in the way of her salon-perfect looks.
In other words, it seems that in putting together the screenplay for “Sex Drive,” co-writers Sean Anders (who also directed) & John Morris simply went through two decades of American teen sex comedies, cherry-picked the best-known elements and hammered them together into a screenplay aimed squarely at audience members who weren’t alive when “Risky Business” came out and who didn’t possess either a fake ID or a lenient older sibling when “American Pie” debuted. Of course, what made those films, not to mention all the other ones cited in the previous paragraphs, so special was that they were teen sex comedies that were more than just empty-headed pieces of sexploitation along the odious lines of “Porky’s” and its ilk. Yes, they had plenty of sexy, silly and raunchy moments between them, but they also contained moments of real emotional truth as well that resonated long after the shock impact of the cruder jokes faded away. “Sex Drive” tries to approximate this formula as well but can’t get the ingredients to work. For starters, while there are a few scenes in which characters talk about the importance of true love over random physical encounters or cheap titillation, these arguments ring somewhat hollow in the context of a film that contrives to get virtually every female character (save for the central Good Girl) to strip down to her underwear and beyond. Then there is the fact that the raunchy moments are so far beyond the bounds of good taste, even by the admittedly elastic standards of this particular genre, that the results are more creepy and unpleasant than funny--the bit with the underwear at the beginning tries to replicate the opening of “American Pie” but ramps up the ickiness factor to such a degree that even audiences in the mood for a gross-out will find it beyond the pale.
If “Sex Drive” fails in the details, it bombs just as badly in terms of ordinary filmmaking. Although the film does look a little better from a visual standpoint than most films of this type (due to the cinematography from Tim Orr, better known from his collaborations with David Gordon Green), it doesn’t really help things that much because the direction from Anders (whose previous effort was the barely released 2005 comedy “Never Been Thawed”) is so cloddish. The pacing is terrible (the film runs 109 minutes and feels nearly twice as long) and, based on the evidence here, he has no idea of how to stage a scene for comedic effect and the flashy Internet-inspired bits that he buts away to in an effort to distract from his clumsiness only serves to underline it further. None of the characters are especially engaging (though I must admit that Alice Greczyn, who plays the Amish maiden, is fetching enough to deserve a place in a better film), the relentless homophobia is enough to leave a bad taste in the mouths of most viewers and the surprising last-minute twist that is deployed to excuse the homophobia is a.) not particularly surprising, b.) not particularly funny and c.0 doesn’t come close to excusing all of the hateful humor leading up to that point. All in all, I think that I laughed exactly once during the entire film when Seth Green, playing an Amish guy who returned to the flock after spending time in the secular world, admitted that one of the things he missed most was sarcasm since it was mostly lost on his people--even then, the film blows the joke by having him go on to explain other things he misses as well in yet another attempt to score a quick and crude joke.A couple of weeks ago, I gave a rave review to another youth-oriented comedy, the utterly beguiling “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” and ever since that review came out, it has been suggested by some that I might have slightly overrated that particular title. Of course, nothing could be farther than the truth--that particular film is as charming as anything that you will see in a theatre this year and smart enough to entertain viewers who are somewhat older than its target demographic. However, if you do feel that I oversold the merits of that film, I heartily encourage you to go see “Sex Drive” so that you can see for yourself the difference between a great teen comedy and an unspeakable one.
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