Sep 15, 2022
By Austin Trunick
Mark Dacascos plays Toby Wong, a trained assassin fleeing from Hong Kong after the communist takeover. Thanks to an experimental device implanted in his chest, he’s a high-tech weapon able to fight, react, and kill at superhuman speeds. No longer wanting to do the dirty work for a government he no longer trusts, Wong’s made a covert deal to sell his implant to an American tech company for a massive payout—provided he can make it to Los Angeles and deliver himself to the competitor.
As you’d expect, the Chinese aren’t about to let their new weapon fall into the hands of a foreign power without putting up a fight. They hire a small army of mercenary goons—led by cowboy Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) and his toady, Hedgehog (Tracey Walter)—to stop Toby from reaching LA. But, our hero finds some unlikely help of his own: an aspiring musician named Malik (Kadeem Hardison) who’s recruited to give Toby a ride down the California coast with professional killers following behind.
Drive (1997) may be the crown jewel of ‘90s straight-to-video action; the movie’s reputation has deservedly grown by leaps and bounds through word-of-mouth since its inauspicious debut on video store shelves. It’s a movie that kicks far above its weight class thanks to two main factors: lots of insane gun fu fighting choreography, and the charisma of its three leads.
Proudly wearing the influences of Jackie Chan and John Woo on its sleeves, Drive’s many over-the-top fight sequences are its star attraction. Koichi Sakamoto’s choreography makes creative use of cool environments—which range from an auto repair garage, a construction site, and a spaceship-themed karaoke club to a cramped hotel room—and unusual situations. On top of that, there’s a heavy dose of humor in the fights themselves, which are full of slapstick pratfalls and imagery that’s somehow both hilarious and badass at the same time. (See: Toby’s fight with rubber boots on his hands.) The battles are shot in an Eastern style, with more conservative cutting than is seen in most Hollywood action films. Director Steve Wang wisely lets his performers wow viewers with their highly-choreographed martial arts via long takes and camerawork that carefully follows their movements.
Dacascos’ athletic ability and martial arts background allow him to convincingly play a runaway superweapon—none of these fight scenes would work remotely this well if it weren’t the star performing many of the stunts. He plays the semi-straight man to Kadeem Hardison’s Malik, who provides a running commentary on the increasingly dangerous scenarios they find themselves in. The movie’s scene stealer, however, is a young Brittany Murphy, who plays an excitement-seeking teen left alone to manage her father’s roadside motel for an evening (which, it so happens, is when it becomes the site of one of Toby’s destructive brawls.) Her character develops a quick crush on Malik, and she plays her like Twin Peaks’ Audrey Horne on a caffeinated sugar-high.
There are a few other, small touches that are truly great; one that we have to mention is the “Einstein Frog” television show that exists within the world of Drive. It’s a wacky little running joke that calls to mind the gameshow clips from Robocop or the recruitment ads of Starship Troopers.
While Drive is a ridiculous amount of fun and blows all its low-budget expectations out of the water, it’s not quite a masterpiece. The film’s pacing slows to a crawl in between its hyper-kinetic action scenes, and a lot of that downtime is spent giving background info on characters that never pays off in any consequential way. The director’s cut—the one presented on this release in 4K—runs nearly two hours, and there are still deleted scenes remaining; the theatrical cut, included here in a 2K version, trims roughly twenty minutes and adds a dated techno soundtrack. With apologies to the director, we’ll give slight preference to the studio’s cut for its much faster pacing, although the ideal cut of Drive would probably exist somewhere between these two.
Drive’s villains are also a bit of a letdown; largely played for laughs, they feel more like Home Alone’s Wet Bandits than the professional mercenaries an evil government would employ for international spec ops missions. There’s absolutely nothing about them that’s remotely intimidating. Drive could have benefitted from a Richard Lynch, a Vernon Wells, or a Billy Drago.
Still, the good (great, even) far outweighs the bad when it comes to Drive. 88 Films have put together a really spectacular 4K UHD special edition for the movie which, as mentioned, includes both versions of the film. The longer director’s cut is the one presented in 4K, which looks (and sounds) excellent; Drive is a bright and colorful movie, and really pops on a HDR-capable setup. Tons of archival features have been carried over, including nine minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, many on-camera interviews, a Making Of documentary, and an audio commentary by the director, choreographer, and both stars, plus a new, 20-minute featurette with actor Jason Tobin. The release comes in a lovely slipcase featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Sam Gilbey.
If you haven’t seen Drive yet, you’ve probably heard an action-head friend raving about it at some point or another. The fight scenes are every bit as wild as you’ve been told. There’s a lot to love here, particularly for fans of the John Wick movies, which sport a similar blend of martial arts and gunplay. 88 Films have presented a definitive release of this movie, and it’s well worth checking out.