I think John Cusack and Thomas Jane are both great. Jane has a flair for comedy, as well as being cinema’s best Punisher; and Cusack has been untouchable in my eyes since the late 80s. So any film that puts them together is already most of the way to being decent. Add in director Brian Trenchard-Smith, Ozploitation master and one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourites, and you almost can’t fail.
What the trailer doesn’t make much of a fuss about is that this film is Australian – I only realised Trenchard-Smith’s involvement when the film had started. If you were no good with accents, the only real clue is that the cars are all right-hand drive – the unique Australian countryside and feel is really never brought up. Is it a film that was ready to roll, the funders pulled out and an Australian company stepped in at the last minute? Or is it an Australian company trying to get into the US market? Doesn’t really matter, I suppose, and me expecting something uniquely “Australian” is more to do with my perception than it is any obligation on the part of the filmmaker.
Jane is Peter, a former race-car driver who retired when his new wife decided the sport was too dangerous for a man with a new baby (the wedding was of the shotgun variety). He’s now a sad-sack driving instructor, his wife basically ignores him and his kid thinks he’s an embarrassment, until one day Simon Keller (Cusack) asks for a driving lesson, ropes him into a bank robbery, then kidnaps him and forces him to drive to a far-distant dock where a getaway boat is waiting. A couple of FBI agents – referred to as such many times, despite Australia not having an FBI – give chase; as do representatives of the robbed bank, which it turns out is a front for an international crime cartel, which Keller used to work for before being stiffed on a job and left to rot in prison.
That’s about it for the plot, really. The film hinges on Peter and Keller’s relationship as they spend so much time in the same car, and it’s…okay. You know they’re going to be “friends” by the end of things, one of them will help the other escape, and so on, and that’s exactly what they do. But it’s the nuts and bolts of the film I really wanted to talk about – the way it’s edited, the use of locations, the order of the scenes, and so on. It’s a pretty good lesson in how not to make a movie, really. This will, of necessity, involve some minor spoilers, but have you ever noticed how I don’t spoil good movies?
Editing. We see bits of Cusack stealing some bonds from a safe inside a “bank” (like an investment place, really) near the beginning. I think there’s two ways you can do this sort of scene. One, have someone walking in, then immediately cut to them running out, arms full of cash. Two, show how they get past all the security. This is a weird halfway house, not giving us enough of either to be satisfying or funny. This is the main thing, but there’s little bits later on, like how the scenery behind them is turning (due to the truck they’re filming on turning a corner, presumably) but Peter never bothers steering the car. Just avoid shots of his hands!
Locations. I’ve already mentioned the lack of use of anything specifically Australian, but this ties in to the rhythm of the movie. The very first time our two heroes pull over, they’re on the news and the guy there starts to shoot them. At this point, I’d probably avoid taking any more breaks, but about every 20 minutes for the rest of the movie, they stop off somewhere else for a lame non-reason, someone spots them and starts shooting. The smart move would have been to just stay on the damn road, maybe steal a car that gets good petrol mileage or something? I have to assume that the film is operating as some sort of tourist video for the Gold Coast area of Australia, and the places they stop contributed funding to them. Because otherwise it makes no sense.
The A & B stories are weirdly laid out too – again, bear in mind, spoilers. There’s a couple of crooked cops on the criminals’ payroll, and they’re following the car chase, along with the two feds. They never catch up to Peter and Keller, but right at the end there’s a confrontation between the two sets of police, and all four of them end up shooting each other, getting shot and dying. I don’t see the reason for the two stories not to meet, and it leads to all sorts of conspiracy theories; like they filmed the Cusack / Jane sequences, waved goodbye to them both, then realised they were half an hour short. It’s not like there’s flashbacks or anything, they’re all in roughly the same area at roughly the same time.
It all feels a bit half-finished. John Cusack clearly enjoys improvising dialogue – watching his films, you’ll often spot little exchanges that don’t have that “normal” movie cadence to them, and in this one he’s clearly been given free rein. I don’t think it really works here – it could do with a few snappier exchanges between two great actors, rather than the sort of conversation I could have any time (with less talk of murder, admittedly). I just hope he didn’t turn down “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” in order to film this.
Talking of “Hot Tub Time Machine”, a main storyline in that movie involved one of the characters claiming “power” back from an overbearing wife by doing something entirely unrelated to that relationship, and this one has a very similar thing. I don’t like the idea of women being prizes to be rewarded for good behaviour, or heroism, rather than relationship compatibility or working out their differences or whatever. It feels backward, from a less enlightened era.
It’s got funny moments, certainly, and I would watch pretty much anything with John Cusack in it, but perhaps Brian Trenchard-Smith should have stayed in obscurity if this is all he can manage nowadays. For a film called “Drive Hard”, there’s not a lot of hard driving in it! Aside from the decent (if low-rent) getaway at the beginning of the film, Thomas Jane’s character wasn’t really needed for the rest of the film at all. Heck, Cusack could have got a taxi from the scene of the crime to his final getaway point, and never had a single problem. Why the two main cast members are American in Australia is also never mentioned, which would have been quite nice to get a bit of information on. Ah well.
Rating: thumbs down