Year of release: 1996
Even though Drive has been touted by many reviewers as one of the best attempts by a US movie to capture the feeling of a Hong Kong action film, I haven't yet put up a review on this site because it is a Japanese and US co-production. However, since its' release (which was well before the wave of kung fu wannabes that came out after the success of The Matrix), star Mark Dacascos has appeared in the Hong Kong movie China Strike Force and the French film Brotherhood of the Wolf (on which Philip Kwok did action direction), so I would say that Drive at least tentatively qualifies for a review on this site. Which is a good thing, because it is one of the best US/HK hybrids and a damn good action movie to boot. Don't get me wrong -- Drive is definitely not The Killer or anything. It's low-budget and fairly cheeseball. But Drive never takes itself too seriously, and more importantly, delivers action and lots of it.
Like most low-budget action movies, the plot here is somewhat simple and silly. Dacascos plays a man who has been implanted with a chip that gives him almost superhuman powers by some evil scientists. Naturally, Dacascos doesn't like being their guinea pig and runs away. This angers the scientists, since they were going to sell the chip to the highest bidder, so they send the Yakuza after Dacascos.
The movie starts with Dacascos kicking ass on a group of thugs and then taking off. While making his getaway, Dacascos takes Kadeem Hardison (yep, that guy from "A Different World") hostage. The two eventually form that tried-and-true "mismatched buddies" thing, and Drive is up and running, as the duo must evade the cops, Yakuza, and some strange guy in a cowboy hat in a race to get the chip out before it kills Dacascos. And that's about it -- unlike many recent films, there is no attempt to make Drive more compicated by introducing a bunch of plot twists, and the simple approach benefits the film as a whole. It doesn't make any sense to try and make Citizen Kane when you are making an action movie, and director Steve Wang keeps that firmly in mind. Wang knows to keep a chase movie just a chase movie, and he keeps things simple and to the point, emphasizing action rather than plot trickery or flowery dialogue.
There is a bit of romance thrown in with Brittany Murphy, but thankfully it never takes over the narrative. Of course, as this is a buddy movie, there is a good amount of comedy as well, and most of it is done just fine. Hong Kong film fans will enjoy such bits as when Dacascos tells a police officer his name is Sammo Hung. At times, Kadeem Hardison comes of as just plain stupid, but his shtick is still kind of funny, unlike Chris Tucker's work in Rush Hour, which was just annoying. Drive seems to meander about a bit during the middle -- it seems that when nothing is being destroyed, Wang loses his focus a bit -- but things pick up a lot of steam towards the end.
At any rate, I was willing to forgive the shortcomings for the sake of the action. The stuff in Drive is heavy on wire work, so people who don't like that kind of thing might want to pass on this film. But if you enjoyed movies like The Matrix and the style of fighting featured there, you will most definitely like the brawls in Drive. Mark Dacascos might be a poor actor, but he is talented in the action department, and Drive allows him ample opportunity to show his skills. There are several outstanding scenes, but like any good action movie, Drive saves the best for last, in this case a go-for-broke brawl that literally brings a whole building down.
Though it might be lost behind a sea of cheap Don Wilson, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal movies at your local video store, it's worth a little extra effort to track down Drive. Even though other US B-list action movies may have left a bad taste in your mouth, Drive is so far above many of them, it's like comparing hamburger and filet mignon. True, this is not "high-class" cinema, and perhaps something you're likely to never watch again, but if you just want to kick back and watch some people kicking ass, Drive is one of the best of the bunch.