Drive Hard tries hard to be tongue-in-cheek B-movie pulp that entertains you for 89 minutes with slick action and funny dialogue. It tries to build a fun rapport between two competent leads while a fast-paced, cross-country car chase taps your adrenaline. It tries to make you feel sympathy for Thomas Jane’s down-on-his-luck Peter Roberts and captivate you with John Cusack’s charismatic Simon Keller. It attempts all of this but fails spectacularly, because despite being a car chase movie, it has no engine keeping it running.
Peter Roberts’ (Jane) problems are as boring as they come. His daughter is a brat who hates him, and his wife is a nag who also hates him. He’s an emasculated ex-racecar-driver-manchild who spends his nights daydreaming about having dignity. He works at a driving school, where he mostly spills coffee on himself and gets laughed at. His customer today is too-cool Simon Keller (John Cusack), conspicuously attired in a full bank-robber uniform of black hat, black gloves, black jacket, and big sunglasses.
After Roberts and Keller stumble through exchanges laden with labored exposition and backstory (“You were great once!”), we witness the shortest and most confusing bank robbery ever put on film. Then Roberts gets tricked into being Keller’s getaway driver because the story demands it, not because it makes any sense. Then a mandatory car chase that lacks any suspense and never seems to exceed 30 miles per hour. This and every subsequent, poorly-staged chase engage every trope in the handbook: knocking over vendor carts in the street, hiding in an alley while the cops cruise by, and my favorite, the unnecessary cut-ins of a foot slamming down on gas pedal repeatedly despite no change in speed and a hand shifting gears repeatedly even though they’re clearly driving an automatic.
Once they get some space from the antagonists, Cusack and Jane do their best to transform forced, stunted dialogue into amusing banter. Sometimes it works, but mostly because Cusack has a way of making almost anything seem urgent and funny. His charm is lined with self-deprecating humor, his many expository lines delivered with enough exasperation for us to momentarily disregard how awkward the whole thing is. Jane’s miserable schmuck persona is equally over the top, securing the campy tone but doing nothing to make the movie more bearable.
There’s also a subplot that’s thin and uninteresting and exists (as far as I can surmise) only to stretch a thin, unimaginative, formula script to feature-length running time — and to further assure us that the writer has no idea how law enforcement or financial institutions or cars actually work.
Veteran director Brian Trenchard-Smith revels in these high turnover, low-budget formula movies (microwave popcorn flicks?), with dozens of similar titles to his name (Doomsday Rock, BMX Bandits, Dead End Drive-In…). One would hope that talent like Cusack and Jane would help lift Drive Hard towards the top of that modest heap, but there’s just nothing here to work with. No sense of danger, no suspense, no twists, and very limited laughs. A soundtrack that sounds like public domain elevator music doesn’t help. This one seems quite content to slink into the background and await its final resting place: the back catalogues of Netflix’s filler content that they’ll try to force on you for the next five years because you admitted you like Con Air.