Comparing Ryan Gosling’s Drive with Mark Dacascos’ Drive

The Ryan Gosling-starring Drive, our film of 2011, is now on DVD and Blu-ray. But how does it compare to the 1997 Mark Dacascos film of the same name…?

As regular readers will already know, Drive was our favourite film of last year. Its atmospheric direction and cinematography, ice-cool soundtrack and superb performances immediately sent it to the top of our list. And now, we’re ready to fall in love with the film all over again as it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray.

In preparation, we decided to take a look at another film called Drive, a Mark Dacascos straight-to-DVD action flick from 1997.

At first glance, you might think that the two films have nothing in common whatsoever aside from their titles. After a second and third glance, you’d probably still think the two films have nothing in common. But peel back the layers, and you’ll find that these apparently different movies have far more in common than is initially obvious. Sort of…

Stories

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a lean, economical character study about a solitary, nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling) whose entire life revolves around cars – driving them about for criminals after robberies, repairing them for close chum Shannon (Bryan Cranston) or crashing them for Hollywood film directors. Then the Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) falls in love, gets into trouble with some very bad men (among them Albert Brooks) and goes on a bloody rampage.

Steve Wang’s Drive is a tonally odd mix of action, road-trip movie, comedy and light sci-fi. Solitary, nameless former-assassin Toby (Mark Dacascos) arrives in America hoping to sell some sort of high-tech ‘turbo drive’ system in his chest to some Los Angeles businessman, while at the same time getting his revenge on the evil bad guys who killed his wife.

On arrival in San Francisco, Toby’s handcuffed to fast-talking songwriter Malik (Kadeem Hardison), and the pair spend the rest of the film journeying to LA and getting into the occasional fight.

The main similarity between the two films’ stories, I suppose, is that they’re both fairly standard thrillers. Winding Refn pulls off the remarkable conjuring trick of making his Drive seem fresh and unusual. Wang’s Drive, meanwhile, feels uncannily like every other kung fu action flick made in the 90s.

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Mind you, Winding Refn’s Drive doesn’t have an exploding Winnebago, so it’s not a complete whitewash.

Heroes

Ryan Gosling’s Driver holds the screen with the magnetism of actors like Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood in their prime. His is a lithe, almost reptilian presence, whose steady gaze and ever-present toothpick hint at a laid-back cool that occasionally gives way to brutal, hammer-wielding violence.

Mark Dacascos’ Toby is a quiet, unassuming hero in the Jackie Chan mode. When he’s seated, he’s affable and even somewhat awkward. But then the shooting begins, and he morphs into a whirling dervish of limbs and improvised weapons.

Dacascos is an unusual actor, in the sense that he’s capable of holding the screen with his looks and physical prowess, but his ability to deliver dialogue is somewhat limited. This is probably why Drive’s makers went down the typical 80s and 90s route of placing an action star next to a comic actor, as seen in Red Heat or Rush Hour, for example.

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Fortunately, Kadeem Hardison makes a decent comedy foil for Dacascos’ high-kicking antics, and his timing does justice to some of the better lines in Scott Phillips’ script.

Ryan Gosling is undeniably the more mesmerising of the two films’ heroes, but does he get to beat an enemy repeatedly about the face and neck with their own shoes? No. Dacascos, therefore, is the winner.

That’s a gorgeous painting on the wall up there, too.

Villains

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Winding Refn’s Drive is blessed with the solid, elemental presence of Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as a pair of ageing yet ruthless mafia types.

Drive 1997, meanwhile, is blessed with some of the most inept villains ever to bother a kung fu star. They’re brilliantly played by John Pyper-Ferguson as Vic Madison, who appears to style himself after the great UK writer Kim Newman, and his side-kick Tracey Walter (character name: Hedgehog), who you’ll recognise from dozens of films from Annie Hall in 1977 to the present.

They play a pair of hapless hitmen who constantly get beaten up, hold conversations about aliens, and reminisce about enjoyable chicken dinners.

You might think that Brooks and Perlman are the superior villains, then. But wait! At the start of the second act, another villain’s introduced. Known only as Advanced Model (and played by Masasya Kato), this new character establishes his menacing presence by throwing a coin at a man’s throat with such force that it kills him instantly. No doubt a young Magneto was watching this scene, and rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

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With Brooks’ love of knives and Kato’s coin-flicking abilities, the two films definitely have one thing in common: nasty, bloodthirsty villains.

Sartorial elegance

Ryan Gosling’s character is immediately recognisable thanks to his toothpick, driving gloves and joyously tacky silken jacket, with its golden scorpion embroidered on the back. Speaking last year, Winding Refn explained how the Driver’s jacket is akin to a superhero’s costume. “That’s who he is – that’s his mark. It’s like a superhero has an identity, in a metaphorical sense, and for him it’s the scorpion.”

Mark Dacascos’ character in the other Drive is a less showy dresser, favouring an all-black jumpsuit-type affair that looks like something a 90s fitness instructor might wear. Still, it does mean that Dacascos’ legs have lots of freedom to move around, as he cheerfully beats the hell out of every man foolish enough to cross his path.Leading ladies

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Not everyone agrees that Carey Mulligan was the right actress to play the Driver’s love interest in Winding Refn’s film. We thought she gave a great, ethereal performance, and her gentle approach to the role seemed to dovetail with Gosling’s portrayal of a character who’s two-parts quiet softy to one-part seething psychopath.

Brittany Murphy plays the practically the only woman in Steve Wang’s Drive – Sanaa Lathan’s in there, too, as Malik’s wife, but she only gets one scene and about three lines of dialogue.

Now, Brittany Murphy was a great actress, God rest her, but her performance here is downright insane. I suspect this is due to a mixture of her being given a flimsy character to play, and probably also the fault of the director. It’s as though Murphy was asked to act as though she’s been drinking copious amounts of gin.

“Ms Murphy, we’d like you to act like your dizzy. No, dizzier than that. Like you’re completely drunk. Pretend that you’re so drunk, you can’t even perceive the world properly any more, just a bunch of coloured shapes. Or a kind of beige mist.”

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Her character’s sole purpose appears to be to act coquettish and start giggling maniacally once the bullets start flying. What’s most strange is that, within around 15 minutes of her introduction, Murphy’s character’s dropped off at a diner and never seen again. Which is just as well, because hers is easily the most terrifying character in the entire film.

Script

The new Drive’s script is most notable for its economical use of dialogue, which in some scenes is pared back to absolutely nothing. It’s a brave move, and part of the reason it’s such a memorable film.

Scott Phillips’ 1997 Drive script, meanwhile, is straight out of the sharp-talking Shane Black school of screenwriting, and some of it’s marvellous. Such as this exchange:

Madison: That sonofabitch could eat flour and shit cupcakes.Hedgehog: Please don’t talk about cupcakes.

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Another sequence, also featuring Madison, even appears to reference a term created by David Cronenberg in The Brood: “That was the VP of Psychoplasmics. Remember that roast chicken we ate? And those little garlic potatoes?”

There’s also a great, faintly surreal moment of incidental humour, where Malik goes to take a packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, but pulls out a box of SunMaid raisins instead.

Winding Refn never thought of putting something like that in his movie.

Violence

Winding Refn’s Drive is punctuated by moments of violence almost akin to a Korean revenge movie in their cringe-inducing power.

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Oddly, there are a couple of moments in Drive 1997 that left me feeling mildly unsettled, too. Although for the most part its action is the kind of knock-about, Three Stooges cartoon violence that Jackie Chan made a trademark (some sequences appear to have been lifted directly from some of Chan’s Hong Kong classics, in fact), there are one or two sequences are surprisingly gory.

The apparently affable, passive Malik cuts off a bad guy’s arm with a chainsaw at one point, and repeatedly pistol-whips another villain in the face with his own gun in another. Beneath Drive 1997’s comedy shell, there beats a dark, bloodthirsty heart – no wonder it’s rated 18, the same as its newer, slicker and funkier cousin.

Summing up

Steve Wang’s Drive has much to recommend it, even if it is too long, and Brittany Murphy’s performance is almost too weird to describe. Its script really comes to life in places, it’s got some decent (though derivative) action sequences, two great comedy villains, and it ends with a replica Apollo 14 rocket exploding in a ball of flame.

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Sure, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is better looking, better acted, with a sublime soundtrack, and among the finest films we’ve seen in years, but does that necessarily make it superior to its namesake overall?

Yes.

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