Sunday, November 27, 2011

THE Surprise Film Of The Year: I Laugh At Sex Drive! Ack!

The Good: Legitimately funny, Moments of character, Moments of acting
The Bad: Utterly predictable plot, Overbearing soundtrack, Rampant homophobia
The Basics: Sad to say, Sex Drive is fun with its dumb, raunchy humor, even with its homophobia and obviousness.

It seems every year since American Pie, viewers are to be barraged with a "lose your virginity" comedy. It's a tired plot and I have managed (largely) to avoid this whole sub-genre. However, I managed to get into a screening of the new film Sex Drive and I decided it was time to actually . . . sigh, pop my cherry on this genre of movies.

Going in to Sex Drive, I had remarkably low expectations and consideration for the genre as a whole. After all, as near as I can tell, there are only two ways a "lose your virginity" comedy can end: the protagonist(s) either lose their virginity or they do not (I imagine in the latter case, they might learn a very valuable lesson about the value of love, sex and life). It's a pretty simple premise, it seems like the resolution would be pretty simple. From the previews, to Sex Drive, it appeared that this one would be mixing the "lose your virginity" comedy with a road trip movie.

Ian is a high school senior who is a nice guy and a virgin. Having developed an on-line relationship with Ms. Tasty, Ian is troubled by how his best friend in the world, Felicia, seems to be hung up on his other friend, Lance. Lance, for his part, is a smarmy womanizer who is fiercely loyal to Ian, so much so that he ignores Felicia's crush on him. Ian's older brother, Rex, is a homophobic jerk who loves his car more than anything and pretty much despises everyone. After a night of on-line chat and a wet dream, Ian becomes enchanted with the idea of meeting Ms. Tasty in person, an idea that seems to appeal to her as well.

So, Ian, Lance and Felicia steal Rex's 1967 GTO and begin to drive to Knoxville, Tennessee. Along the way, the car breaks down, exposing Lance to another man's wife, the trio to a sleazebag, and ultimately to a rescue by the Amish of all people. As the road trip continues, Ian and Felicia begin to realize they might be more than just friends.

First, I was on the fence about this movie for a long time while watching it. In the first ten minutes, the words "fag," "faggot" or some derivation of anti-gay slur is thrown out at least eight times, mostly from Rex. "Gay" is used as a pejorative and it is especially foul the way it is expressed. It's enough to make the audience (save the thirteen year-olds or Neanderthals who sneak in to Sex Drive) cringe. But more than that, it's not funny. Writers Sean Anders and John Morris try to undo the damage in the last few minutes of the film, but by that point, it's more of a pathetic afterthought likely put in to appease GLAAD (or just to make somewhat more subtle gay jokes).

The problem I ran into in watching Sex Drive was that the longer it went on, the more I found myself laughing. The humor is dumb and crude, usually involving slapstick - which I generally despise - or humor based on how the body works (erection humor, dick and fart jokes, etc.), but it is surprisingly well executed. I found myself laughing. A lot. Kudos to the writers and director Sean Anders for that; Sex Drive is surprisingly funny. And, actually, the best joke in the movie (I thought) is actually a line, not a physical gag. Strangely, I was the only one in the theater to laugh at it, too (and I laughed especially loud at it, which is why I recall it). Lance, having hooked up with a young Amish woman during their festival of debauchery, tells Mary, "You've got my number and you'll call me, right?" I thought that was funny because, of course, the Amish don't use phones and Mary's deadpan, "No I won't" was timed for that to be a joke and it is well delivered (I was surrounded by an audience that was more into the physical comedy, I suppose). At the end of the day, though, Sex Drive is laugh-out-loud funny, and I went into the film with low expectations, probably biased some against it. And I laughed . . . a lot.

What Sex Drive isn't is original. The plot is so hackneyed and obvious that it could have been written by a high school student or generated by a computer. This is a ridiculously simple plot; a challenge of "get here by x time and we'll have sex!" Combined with the completely predictable character arcs of Ian and Felicia (even Lance's arc was pretty obvious going in), this is a terribly obvious movie on virtually all fronts. There are no surprises coming from character or plot. Even the climax scene when Ian and Ms. Tasty finally meet did not seem terribly surprising to me.

But the movie felt remarkably familiar from the very beginning and that is because it feels like a cheap rip-off of a Kevin Smith movie. And in many ways, this movie follows the same basic structure of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back with a noticeable difference in the lack of allusions to other works. Sex Drive comes with its own version of Jay and Silent Bob even, in the form of Andy and Randy. In some ways, though, they are like two Jays who have their own banter between them. It lent for a remarkably familiar feel in the characters as well as the plot.

What left me more impressed than anything were moments of acting throughout the movie. Amanda Crew, Josh Zuckerman, and Clark Duke play off one another well. For three young leads, they play the parts surprisingly well. Crew, for example, is able to perfectly embody the body language of a teenage girl with all of the slouching and eye rolling. And she does it well. Seth Green, who electrified the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) is memorable as Ezekial. The clips from the previews are only his first appearance in the film and he holds his own with his unique brand of understated sarcasm.

But it is James Marsden who cuts his acting chops on Sex Drive. Yes, I'm talking about James Marsden the white-bread-bland actor who was excruciatingly dull on Ally McBeal and in X-Men (reviewed here!). Marsden plays Rex and he is physically active, vehemently spewing hate dialogue with his homophobic slurs and he is utterly convincing doing it. Marsden is anything but bland and the level of discomfort I felt watching him rip into everyone (especially Zuckerman's Ian) was intense. He is impressive; it is Marsden like we've never seen him before.

My last thought on Sex Drive, though, was that it has a very overbearing soundtrack with lots of music from young people. There is a cameo by the band Fall-Out Boy (thank you closing credits sequence!) and the music is rather loud and intrusive throughout the movie.

Still, it's not enough to sink Sex Drive in my book and no one is more surprised I would like this film than I am. It is fun. It is dumb fun, but it's fun and even with its faults, there is enough to recommend it.

For other sex farce movies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
She’s Out Of My League
Fired Up!
No Strings Attached


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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