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Film Review: ‘Drive Hard’

John Cusack and Thomas Jane are Americans Down Under in a by-numbers buddy crime caper.

John Cusack, Thomas Jane, Zoe Ventoura, Christopher Morris, Yesse Spence, Jerome Ehlers, Carol Burns, Christopher Summers, Robert Newman, Andrew Buchanan, Damien Garvey, Jason Wilder, Mick Roughan, Adrian Auld.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2968804/

Approximately as unforgettable as its title, “Drive Hard” finds John Cusack and Thomas Jane as Americans in Australia — presumably due to reasons of financing rather than narrative convenience — thrown together for crime-caper-comedy purposes. This kind of B-grade action buddy pic on wheels would have fit handily on a drive-in bill between “Smokey and the Bandit”-type knockoffs four decades ago, and apart from the number of cell phones thrown out of car windows, veteran Aussie schlockmeister Brian Trenchard-Smith has done precious little to update the tired genre conventions trotted out here. Launching theatrically Stateside Oct. 3 amid a series of international rollouts in various formats, this inoffensive if fairly lowbrow mediocrity has enough generically marketable aspects to turn a profit via ancillary sales.

Former pro race-car driver Peter (Jane) has left that vocation for domestic life, though the family he’s created Down Under hardly appreciates him. His henpecking lawyer wife (Yesse Spence) calls the shots and provides most of their income, while their preadolescent daughter (the actress goes curiously unbilled in the cast list) is already a full-on private-school snob. Peter hopes to open a racing school, but funds for that aren’t forthcoming; meanwhile, he works part-time as a much less exciting kind of driving instructor, helping ordinary folks get their licenses. Today’s client is not exactly ordinary, however: Fellow American Simon (Cusack) seems to enjoy flouting every traffic law before turning the wheel back over to teacher. Saying “I’ll be five minutes,” he ducks into the HQ for Intl. Bank & Trust, emerging a bit later in a hail of gunfire.

It turns out Simon has researched Peter, and due to his racing skills has selected him as an ideal (if unwilling) getaway driver. When he tries to flee this captor on foot, the unarmed Peter is (somewhat nonsensically) shot at by police, so he climbs back into their vehicle and duly gets them both out of there. Soon they’ve ditched the cops, at least temporarily. But now they’re being pursued by corporate “security personnel” with orders to kill, since bank honcho Rossi (Christopher Morris) knows ex-associate Simon knows about certain massive institutional money laundering and tax fraud — as do two federal investigators (Zoe Ventoura, Jason Wilder) seeking bigger criminal fish than Simon and the measly $9 million he’s nicked today. Nonetheless, the bank robbers are all over the telly, creating problems as the duo drive up the Gold Coast and are recognized by trigger-happy average citizens.

No stranger to cartoonish action junk, Trenchard-Smith (who 30 years ago gave us wee Nicole Kidman in “BMX Bandits,” a movie with better chase scenes than this one) directs with his customary undiscriminating cheer and energy. But the fact that the film isn’t quite boring is about the most one can say for it. Characters keep making complaints like “What kinda stupid do you think I am?!,” as if accusing the scenarists.

Jane works hard at comic amiability, getting no help whatsoever from the wheezy badinage and dumb situations he’s stuck with; Cusack barely works at all, hiding behind shades throughout and presuming some leftover cool from better career moments will get him by here. (Pasty and overdressed, he doesn’t look very healthy for someone whose chef and personal trainer get screen credit.) Supporting turns range from the clock-punching to the scenery-chewing. Tech and design contributions are undistinguished.

Film Review: 'Drive Hard'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 1, 2014. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: (Australia) An RLJ/Image Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Voltage Pictures presentation of an Odyssey Film Studios Australia production. Produced by Pam Collis, Paul O’Kane, Kirk Shaw. Executive producers, Shaw, Dan Grodnik, James M. Vernon, Dominic Rustam, Babacar Diene, Bill Bromiley, Mark Ward, Michael Bayer.

Crew: Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Screenplay, Brigitte Jean Allen, Trenchard-Smith. Camera (color, HD), Tony O’Loughlan; music, Bryce Jacobs; production designer, Jon Dowding; art director, Jonathon Hannon; set decorator, Chrissy Feld; costume designer, Monica O’Brien; sound, Mark Cornish; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Michael Newton; action vehicle coordinator, Harry Ward; stunt coordinator, John Walton; assistant director, John Titley; casting, Donald Paul Pemrick, Dean E. Fronk, Tom McSweeney.

With: John Cusack, Thomas Jane, Zoe Ventoura, Christopher Morris, Yesse Spence, Jerome Ehlers, Carol Burns, Christopher Summers, Robert Newman, Andrew Buchanan, Damien Garvey, Jason Wilder, Mick Roughan, Adrian Auld.

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