In 10 Words or Less
America, meet The Coreys; The Coreys, meet America
Back when I was graduating from college, my Best Man Matthew J. McCue and I were two of the last few students still living on campus, as we were working the graduation ceremonies as video coordinators. Without much to do, no one else around and our respective stuff packed and ready to ship home, we turned to our usual drug of choice: movies. So off to Blockbuster we went, were we chose two films we knew would erase the blahs of the last days of college and spread rainbows and sunshine across our hearts and minds: Monster Squad (which we are still waiting for on DVD) and...License to Drive.
The story of Les (Corey Haim) and Dean (Corey Feldman) holds a special place in the canon of '80s films, mainly as the true establishment of a pop-culture juggernaut/joke that would become known as The Coreys. Combining the innocent Tiger Beat pin-up looks of Haim with Feldman's bad-boy spirit of rebellion was like when peanut butter first met chocolate: it was two great tastes that tasted great together. Together, they were what every guy wanted to be and what every girl just wanted. Sure, they were together in The Lost Boys before License to Drive, but there they were competing with more established stars for screen time. In this prototypical '80s comedy, they were the center of the universe, and that made all the difference.
As far as the story goes, it's essentially straight-forward. Les wants to get his driver's license so he can be cool and independent enough to impress the hottest girl in school, Mercedes Lane (Boogie Nights' Heather Graham). The problem is, he fails his test (in a lengthy sequence that is probably the best and funniest part of the movie), a fact he conceals from his friends and family.
But since this is an '80s comedy, and Les is a blue-blooded American male, he's not about to let his lack of a license prevent him from getting the girl of his dreams. Spurred on by Dean and their nerdy pal Charles, he commandeers his grandfather's boat of a Caddilac, picks up Mercedes and sets off on a night he'll never forget. Unfortunately for him, it's unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
While Haim and Feldman are obviously the stars of the show, the supporting cast is quite good, especially Les' parents. His father is the kind of dad every kid would want to have, one who balances his parental responsibility with an understanding of what being a teenager is like. Richard Masur (My Girl) plays the part perfectly, acting as a stabilizing factor while capable of going off the edge as well. He's paired with the perfect mate in Carol Kane, who brings her usual adorable ditz persona to the role of a very loving and very pregnant mom.
In his first movie directing gig, Greg Beeman channels early Savage Steve Holland, giving Les' very real world the surreal dreamlike qualities that make it so much fun to experience with him. It's not the most artistic film, but the whole thing looks better than the usual '80s teen movie that put the camera on a tripod and shot. This style helps give the film the energy that makes it so much fun.
Though I fully admit that I am a fan of this film, and therefore this review is somewhat biased, License to Drive is not the same movie from beginning to end. In fact, looking at the chapter stops, the movie is divided almost perfectly in half, with the beginning of Les' date with Mercedes announcing the second half. From there on, the film isn't quite as fun, though there are still some great moments, as it becomes less a movie dealing with teen concerns and more a formula comedy of errors.
The cast helps to keep the film's head above water with their very likable and enjoyable performances, but the originality and fun factor of the early parts of the film are missing. It never gets boring, nor does it become a bad movie, but it's just not the same movie. In the end, it's a flawed but fun artifact of a much more innocent time.
Anchor Bay has picked up the fumble from Fox, presenting this '80s teen classic on one DVD, housed in a standard keepcase. Included in the package is an eight-page booklet with trivia about the film, and short pieces by critic Frank H. Woodward on the actors, the film and the "The Coreys Phenomenon," as well as a chapter stops list. The main menu features the Coreys, animated in a style that is similar to the opening titles of the film. Options presented include scene selection, audio set-up, extras and play the film. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while the language options include English Dolby 5.1 and Surround 2.0. There are no subtitles, but the film is closed captioned.
As the film was released in 1988, and I was all of 10 years old, I never saw the film in theaters. Therefore, this DVD is the first chance I've ever had of seeing License to Drive in its original aspect ratio. Whether I actually did that is a bit of a question, as the box lists the ratio as 1.85:1, while IMDB has the OAR as 2.35:1. IMDB isn't always right, so I'll try to track that info down.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the film looks beautiful. There's some minor grain and dirt, but the movie looks terrific, with bright colors and a nice level of fine detail. There's a bit of softness to the transfer, especially during night scenes (which make up much of the movie) but overall, there's nothing to complain about.
The 5.1 audio track is solid, but don't expect any fancy audio effects like panning. The surrounds are merely there to boost the weight of the soundtracks many pop hits, and some occasional background sound. For the most part, it's a standard issue dialogue track with clear mixing and no distortion. It's preferred over the front-and-center 2.0 mix, but that's just common sense.
If it's an under-appreciated film released by Anchor Bay, there's a good chance that the DVD will feature a nice selection of bonus material. Such is the case here. Interestingly, the extras menu features Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car," from the soundtrack. This is the first time I can remember a popular song being used in a menu, as usually there are major hassles and money involved.
The bonus features get off to a good start with a feature-length commentary track by director Greg Beeman and writer Neil Tokin. This film is each man's movie-career highlight, (though Beeman has had an extremely successful TV career) and their enthusiasm for the project is obvious from the first words of the discussion. Beeman is one of the most energetic commentators ever, and his machine-gun delivery could force you to take a nap afterward. There's a lot of self-deprecating humor at work, and some interesting notes and innuendo about the production, including Graham's smoking ability and what The Coreys were up to when the cameras weren't rolling.
Haim and Feldman get a chance to share their thoughts on the film as well, in a pair of separate interviews that are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Haim, who is nearly unrecognizable now, shares some stories from the set, including a battle with mono during the filming. For 10 minutes, Haim gets to remember the good times, which must be bittersweet, considering the direction his life has taken since this movie.
Feldman spends a bit over 17 minutes talking about the film and his experiences during production, including him losing out on the part of Les to Haim. More intriguing are his thoughts about being a teen idol and part of "The Coreys," which are a mixture of fond memories and cynicism. Hearing him share a commentary track with Haim or an interview with the two of them would have been nice, but this is pretty in-depth.
A 14-minute deleted scene is available, presented anamorphically, though the footage is full-frame. The quality is awful, looking like a VHS tape from the medium's earliest days, after about 250 replays. This is the original "ending", though it doesn't play all the way through to the final frame, instead showing what happened to the car in the original concept. Thankfully, the creators came up with something different.
Four promos are included, all in anamorphic full-frame. The two trailers are OK, but it's the TV spots that are the real prize. One features Les directly addressing the audience, an idea you never see today, and the other is one of the infamous "polling the audience" ads, where people leaving the theater are asked what they thought. Checking out the hair, clothes and way too over-enthusiastic responses is hilarious.
Pop this disc into a DVD-ROM drive, and the third draft of the film's screenplay is accessible in PDF format. This script doesn't match the final film, including a different ending, making it an interesting piece for comparison purposes.
The Bottom Line
License to Drive is very much a product of the '80s, but the themes should be somewhat universal, especially to anyone who lives outside of the big city areas. The symbol of a car as freedom is a concept that's just as palpable 17 years after The Coreys made this film, and the over-the-top comedy is still just as funny. The DVD presentation is just what was needed in terms of supplements (though a touch of Heather Graham wouldn't have hurt) with an excellent transfer. Every child of the '80s should own this movie, along with anyone attempting to make a "screwball" comedy today.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.