Even conceding that there are no original ideas left, few are as derivative as “Drive,” a marketing-based concoction that borrows from such gas-guzzling titles as “The Cannonball Run” and “Death Race 2000” (2007?) as well as current interest in NASCAR. A secret cross-country race thus becomes the improbable backdrop for an action soap, featuring a disjointed roster of characters where, conveniently, all the women are really hot. A two-hour Sunday launch should jump-start ratings, but unless the producers can match “Prison Break’s” ability to keep narrowly escaping storytelling dead ends, caution flags are waving all around.
Another movie worth mentioning is Daniel Minahan’s provocative “Series 7,” a reality TV satire where unwilling participants are forced to compete in a life-or-death elimination game. Parallels to that are surely accidental, inasmuch as the most outlandish escapees from Fox’s reality vaults helped prevent that film from seeming too far fetched.
Even so, Nebraska family man Alex (Nathan Fillion, who teamed with co-creator Tim Minear on “Firefly”) finds his wife missing and being held as collateral to compel him to participate in the race. He’s quickly paired with a hot blond (Kristin Lehman), who knows far more about what’s happening than he does, since some contestants (not yet fully clear) are willingly vying for the contest’s $32 million prize.
Why people have be coerced to play with that kind of money involved doesn’t really make much sense, but as with “Prison Break,” the less you contemplate the plot, the more apt you are to enjoy it.
So Alex rushes to Florida, as does a woman just released from the hospital (“Two and a Half Men’s” Melanie Lynskey); a paroled criminal (Kevin Alejandro); an Iraq veteran (Riley Smith) and his girlfriend (Mircea Monroe); and a suburban dad (Dylan Baker) with his teenage daughter (Emma Stone).
Drawing from other whiz-bang Fox fare, a satellite view whips around the U.S. as the drivers assemble. Alex is told that the race is “secret, exclusive and illegal,” while a shadowy proprietor, Mr. Bright (Charles Martin Smith), briefs him on the rules, which include a cryptic warning that finishing last is bad.
The driving sequences themselves are seamlessly shot employing a computer-enhanced technique that allows the camera to glide in and out of the cars, but the initial stunts/chases aren’t especially spectacular. This also might be the first series where people are stereotyped by their rides, from pickup trucks to minivans. That said, it’s a fairly impressive cast (of characters, not cars), albeit one left skidding around on a rather slippery premise, based on this introduction.
After its debut “Drive” changes lanes to Mondays, where “Prison Break” has finished its season and “24” has become increasingly ridiculous and tiresome. In the opening laps, though, this show mostly reinforces how difficult it is get one of these hairpin-turn serialized dramas up and running, much less keep them advancing at full speed while avoiding the many potholes (or is that plot holes?) that lie ahead.