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Drive (1997) - MVD Rewind Collection
In the long history of mismastched movie duos, it's hard to think of two men less matched than Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison) and Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos). Malik is still licking his wounds from his impending divorce, and trying to get his fledgling songwriting career off the ground. Toby is, well, a special agent and martial arts expert with a bionic implant plugged into his chest that gives him additional speed and agility, which he's stolen from the Chinese mob and hopes to sell to a Los Angeles tech company for $5 million cash. Malik needs the money more than he doesn't need the trouble, so he agrees to drive Toby from SF to LA for half the dough. In pursuit: the Gregg Allman-esque hillbilly assassin Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) and his scuzzy right-hand man Hedgehog (Tracey Walter), who have been hired by Mr. Lau (James Shigeta), who runs the company that installed the implant. Also along for part of the ride: Deliverance Bodine (Brittany Murphy), who is desperate to take advantage of her freedom while she's running her family's motel/auto shop all by her lonesome.
Despite being recut, rescored, and released direct-to-video back in 1997, Steve Wang's Drive built up a cult following over the years among martial arts fans. A special edition DVD was produced, but never received an American release, so this MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray marks the official US debut Wang's original director's cut, which has been beautifully remastered from a 4K scan. The movie isn't without some rough patches -- the comic banter is definitely not on par with the action -- but it's just plain wild to imagine the producers looking at a movie this fun and packed wall-to-wall with excellent martial arts sequences and deciding they needed to try and salvage it.
Dacascos has had a strange career. Probably best known as The Chairman on Food Network's "Iron Chef America," he's had a number of cult successes over the years, most notably his work with French filmmaker Christophe Gans on Crying Freeman and The Brotherhood of the Wolf. He also has a great featured role in the most recent John Wick; the casting of Dacascos alone feels like a tip of the hat to how respected he is as a martial artist (and, personally, I enjoyed his cameo on the underseen TV show "The Middleman"). Drive is a great showcase for Dacascos both as an action star and as an actor, with the film's exhilarating fight scenes showing off his physical skills and the rest of the movie easily proving he's more charismatic than most action stars. It feels like Dacascos could have easily had a steady career making Redbox-ready action films, and they'd probably be more fun than the junk churned out by former megastars like Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal -- hopefully he's been picky, rather than overlooked. Hell, he gets an opportunity to sing in Drive, and he's good at it, too.
Of course, while Dacascos' absence from action cinema is disappointing, Brittany Murphy's death back in 2009 at the age of 32 is outright tragic. Drive is sandwiched right in between Murphy's breakout debut in Amy Heckerling's Clueless and her co-starring role in the Oscar-winning Girl, Interrupted, and it might be her most ridiculously infectious performance. The tone of Drive is over-the-top, more comedy than thriller, and Murphy absolutely steals the show as Deliverance. Imagining how the role read on the page feels impossible; Murphy's slinky, goofy, enthusiastic performance is an off-the-wall delight every minute she's on screen. She manages to infuse the character with a sexy playfulness while also making it impossible to call her character "ditzy" -- she's too in on the joke for that. Smarter producers would've watched this and reshot the ending to bring her character back rather than cutting the movie down and sending it to video.
Spotlighting Dacascos and Murphy isn't to say that Hardison is a slouch, but he is saddled with the film's weakest material. His character's comic banter with Dacascos tends to fall flat, and there's some weird racial stuff at the end where a character whips him that isn't quite offensive but feels poorly thought-out. The subplot about his divorce (with Sanaa Lathan making her debut as his ex-wife) never becomes compelling, either. The best scenes are more physical, with Hardison simply trying to stay alive, whether he's handcuffed to Dacascos or having to fend without him. Despite the dialogue, Hardison is also fun to watch with Dacascos, especially when they're goofing off. Really, the only weak links here are a somewhat abrupt hand-wavey ending, and Pyper-Ferguson as Madison, whose limitations as an actor combine with the limitations of the role as written, coming off like a reheated Die Hard villain (funny, considering the supporting role for Shigeta). Of course, it's possible that Pyper-Ferguson was cast because he was also capable of holding his own in the action sequences, which he does.
Drive has made its long-awaited high-definition debut via the MVD Rewind Collection, which has given the film its traditional packaging treatment. First, there is a semi-gloss slipcover with "wear" on the artwork and stickers to make it look more like a well-worn VHS rental copy. The slipcover and default image on the sleeve is a silly, colorful image of Hardison and Dacascos pointing guns on the roof and hood of a digitally-inserted car, with neither actor looking anything like they do in the finished film, and on the reverse of the sleeve, there is an alternate, more moody design involving silhouettes and big faces (both versions seem to be taken from the film's original marketing campaign). Inside the case, there is a fold-out poster of the default image, complete with the MVD Rewind Collection logo at the bottom.
The Video and Audio
For this Blu-ray, MVD has commissioned a new 4K master of the director's cut, presented here in 2.35:1 1080p AVC, with the soundtrack available in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 or LPCM 2.0 stereo. On the whole, the 4K scan looks great, especially when it comes to the film's colorful palette, which is striking and well-saturated. Detail is excellent, depth is strong, and there is a fine layer of film grain visible. Black levels occasionally fluctuate, with shadow delineation suffering occasionally as a result, but the disc seems to stop short of outright black crush. Minor print damage is visible from time to time, including vertical lines and other nicks and flecks, but nothing egregious. The audio leaves a little more to be desired, including the captions. First of all, it's obviously frustrating to have to choose between lossless audio and a 5.1 mix. Flipping between the two, the 5.1 mix is a bit more dynamic, but it's hard not to imagine that it would be richer if it had been presented uncompressed. On the whole, both provide a satisfactory auditory experience for watching the movie, but having to pick one is a pain, especially in a movie with so much action. The subtitles are also frustrating -- the film's theatrical cut, offered as an SD extra, has full English subtitles, but the feature presentation only has subtitles for the non-English segments. It feels like, with no new supplementary material produced for the disc, that it would've been worth the expense to adapt and expand the theatrical subtitle track so that it covered the director's cut.
Drive received a special edition DVD release in the UK and Germany, and most of the extras from that release have been ported to MVD's Blu-ray. They include an audio commentary with director Steve Wang, fight choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, and actors Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison, the "Drive: The Force Behind the Storm" documentary (47:42), deleted scenes (8:42), and an interview gallery (24:30). The only thing missing from the overseas editions are two photo galleries. In addition, MVD has also included the theatrical cut of the film (1:39:47) in standard definition, with optional English subtitles.
An original theatrical trailer for Drive is also included.
Drive is a supremely silly movie, and not always a perfect one, but it's a hell of a ride. Any action fan should check it out just to see Dacascos in action, who deserved more cool starring vehicles like this one. Although I have some quibbles with the sound and subtitles, MVD's Blu-ray package is also otherwise top-notch. Highly recommended.
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