A moving violation if ever there was one, “Drive Me Crazy” is the kind of project that will help steer the teen-movie gravy train right over the cliff. Sloppy and dull in equal measures, pic badly serves its promising male lead, Adrian Grenier (“The Adventures of Sebastian Cole”), and shows that Melissa Joan Hart is yet another tube thesp who can’t command the bigscreen. This limp adolescent comedy is obviously a summer release dumped into fall-season detention, with little hope of attracting much of a teen date crowd beyond the “Sabrina” minions.
Rob Thomas’ thuddingly unfunny script is alternately faithful to and miles away from Todd Strasser’s breezy, if preachy, novel “How I Created My Perfect Prom Date,” the second in the prolific Strasser’s series of tomes for young adults set at fictitious Time Zone High. But like the novel, pic is never quite sure whether to establish an exaggerated, outrageous tone for the story of a clean-scrubbed popular girl and an alienated guy, or go for a relaxed naturalism.
Under John Schultz’s wan direction, point of view is a mess throughout. Action begins with Nicole Maris (Hart) getting primed for another day of prepping the 100-year-old school’s big Centennial Week while slacker Chase Hammond (Grenier) pulls pranks with fellow dudes Ray (Kris Park), an anarchic videomaker, and Dave (Mark Webber), who volunteers to drive drunken jocks home from parties.
What could have been a funny and insightful look at high school’s strict social castes, as well as the false assumptions teens make about one another, is blandly uninvolving. The comedy tries to get into gear by posing a compare/contrast between longtime neighbors and ex-pals Nicole and Chase. He just wants to hang at the coffeehouse with animal rights activist g.f. Dulcie (Ali Larter), while Nicole’s purpose in life is to snare hoops star Brad (Gabriel Carpenter) for the Centennial dance.
But Nicole witnesses Brad swooning for a cheerleader whom he crashes into during a game, and Chase loses Dulcie. In an arch and unnecessary alteration from the book, Nicole’s new project is to make it look like she’s taking Chase to the dance by attending to him and dressing him up, but with the ulterior motive of provoking Dulcie to take Chase back. One look at the new Chase convinces Ray and Dave that their bud’s lost it. But what Nicole doesn’t know is that sly friend Alicia (Susan May Pratt) has her own strategy in action, leading to the kind of standard character reversals that the filmmakers find infinitely more paradoxical than they actually are.
While Thomas’ script wisely does away with the book’s formulaic anti-drug line, and invents the one visually funny joke in the film — Ray creates a subversive video aired over the school’s closed-circuit TV — it also virtually ignores tome’s attention to Nicole’s and Chase’s divorced parents. By doing so, pic’s capper involving Nicole’s mom (Faye Grant) and Chase’s dad (William Converse-Roberts) comes out of nowhere. As Nicole’s inattentive dad, Stephen Collins looks like he’s stumbled in from another movie.
Hart doesn’t look much better, appearing at times dazed and seldom charming. Grenier is the only thesp here indicating that something is going on between the ears, but like Hart, he doesn’t assert any personality or energy over the silly script. Webber’s Dave, conflicted between his friends’ anti-jock values and his need to help out, is the only other character who registers any life.
Setting, sans views of teachers teaching and students studying, hardly seems real, yet design and tech credits do nothing to give sense that this is a stylized view of teen turmoil. In a bizarre touchemphasizing Greg Kendall’s poor score, a music cue from Bernard Herrmann’s ultra-passionate love theme from “The Trouble With Harry” is employed under Nicole and Chase’s inevitable smooch.