'Drive' struggles to change gears

September 16, 2011 

A movie with the title Drive should not be left in "park."

Ryan Gosling is a Hollywood stunt driver who sometimes doubles as a getaway driver for criminals. From time to time, he does car races. A man of few words, he chooses to live a simple, lonely life. Drive here. Drive there. Go home. Wait.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

His sometimes-employer and genius mechanic hooks him up with a gangster who sponsors their race car. Then, he meets and is attracted to Carey Mulligan’s Irene. She lives next door and has a young son. Pheromones fly.

There is a complication. A husband. He’s in jail. When he finally gets out he’s threatened by those he owes money to. Commit a robbery and you go free. Don’t do it? You and your family die.

Gosling’s character — who never is named — decides to help out.

The plot has all of the ingredients necessary for a great action flick. There’s the charismatic star, a terrific leading lady and a perfect, although, low-key villain. It just never gets into gear.

Two problems.

First, Gosling and Mulligan (An Education) and the other actors don’t have much to do.

Second, nothing much happens. Very little dialogue and even less action. He is victim of long shots staring into space with toothpick poking out of his mouth or turning the wheel of his car this way or that, toothpick hanging out of his mouth, or locked into a long, lingering, puppy-love shot where he’s staring at Mulligan’s Irene and she’s staring back. In those scenes, sometimes he has the toothpick. Sometimes, he doesn’t.

What’s with the toothpick, anyway?

Gosling and Mulligan are excellent actors when given something to do. Their charismatic co-star Albert Brooks, fortunately, does have a relatable character and has some fun. We rarely see Brooks these days, and normally he’s cast as someone’s second banana.

Drive casts him as a mild-mannered, thoughtful, philosophical gangster not wanting to do business the old-fashioned way any longer. His performance is all that fuels Drive. Brooks is so good he could even snare some deserved supporting-actor nominations at year’s end.

The bottom line: Drive starts slowly, quickly gets stuck in traffic and then runs out of gas.

Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars

Rated PG for mature themes. It opens today at the Carmike 12, at the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla's Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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