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Sex Drive (2008) January 4, 2009

Posted by gproject in : Cinema, Recently Viewed , trackback

Directed by: Sean Anders

With its predilection for carefree fun and hijinks, the teen sex comedy fits naturally into the summer schedules; yet it seems that this film, following the trail of breadcrumbs left by those that came before it, is about six months late.  Sex Drive breaks an unspoken rule by being completely unsubtle in its titling, and while it may still technically hide a double meaning, neither connotations really spark a vote of confidence for what is to come.  Regardless of intention, there’s a reason they called it Superbad, not ‘I-want-sex-bad’.  Still, by laying its cards on the table from the outset, this aspiring teen comedy doesn’t exactly demean the genre either.

The story follows Ian Lafferty, a shy eighteen year old with a stupid part time job at the mall donut stand.  The only thing he has going for him is a casual internet chat with ‘Ms Tasty’, a college girl in Knoxville whom he has embellished his true self extensively to.  When she suddenly offers him the change to meet in reality, Ian steals his older brother’s car and starts the long drive from his hometown of Chicago.  Along for the ride is Ian’s suave pal Lance, and his best friend / inevitable love interest, Felicia.  Nothing runs smoothly however, and the more the group try to push on, the more odd characters and embarrassing fates befall them, as Ian starts to question whether he is indeed desperate enough to go all the way for Ms Tasty.

So it’s a sex comedy, then.  Or as its creators would like you to think of it: a coming of age story, with some outrageous comic interludes.  But by introducing sex as the conduit through which our characters think, act and feel, it seems more likely that we’re heading straight for the lowest common denominator, albeit with a weighty ‘R’ rating to prove that it’s “not for kids”.  But let’s not judge it too quickly.  Since American Pie resuscitated the teen sex comedy in the late 90’s, there have been a few bright sparks in this dimly lit genre.  Most recently, it was the foul-mouthed banter of Superbad [review] that caught the mainstream attention; yet Road Trip, Harold & Kumar and American Pie all managed to carve out cult followings.  It’s difficult, but not impossible.

Sex Drive seems almost oblivious to all of this, however, happily strolling into the party wearing the same costume as its host.  This is comedy of the ‘road trip’ variety, and so naturally episodic in nature.  A popular approach, it depends heavily on what you do with those episodes as to whether the film is a success or not.  Here we stop for a redneck trailer jaunt, an angry hitchhiker, an Amish community, a funfair… all rather safe backdrops for hilarity to ensue and while they vary in quality, the constant location changes keep things moving at a reasonable pace.

There’s further evidence of adhering to the teen comedy formula when popular emo band Fall Out Boy show up as themselves to play a, frankly, very unlikely gig, out in Middle America.  Plus there’s the comic device of either adhering strictly to stereotypes, or turning them wildly on their head, a behaviour exhibited in both forms when our protagonists visit an authoritarian Amish community, who also take time out to drink, party, dance, and fix classic cars, when they’re not remaining devout to their other beliefs.  The fact that Seth Green shows up to play the ultra-sarcastic Ezekiel character helps bring life to these sequences though, which might have fallen flat without him.

Which brings us to the cast: a heavy helping of young comic performers and a smattering of cameo parts round out this acceptable roster.  Josh Zuckerman is a sympathetic lead, and quite believable as the unlucky-in-love teenager who’s reached the end of his patience.  As his best friend / love interest, Amanda Crew serves up the necessary level of cute indecisiveness, in a character who never really gets stretched beyond the typical rebellious teen girl role.  Playing more against type is Clark Duke (some may recognise him from his excellent web-series with Michael Cera, Clark & Michael), who works up his playboy lothario character into the wittiest of the bunch.  It’s a solid group, and their chemistry helps draw together the separation in story events.

Meanwhile, there are the more overstated supporting roles.  James Marsden is at his most comically obnoxious playing Ian’s older brother, and the aforementioned Seth Green adds plenty to his limited scenes, while David Koechner gets a little wasted during his few minutes on screen.  Most memorable, however, are the two hormonal teen boys, Randy and Andy (played by Mark L. Young and Charlie McDermott).  They are written as creations of absurdity, but their puerile comments and “heroic” ability to start conversations with the opposite sex, play nicely within the decidedly unrealistic world that these films always present.  For our main characters, a happily ever after seems far from achievable, and yet they always get there in the end.

Sex Drive is no frontrunner in either the comedy or stupidity stakes, taking few chances and playing straight down the line of its predecessors.  To discover it has been adapted from a book (titled ‘All The Way’, by Andy Behrens) is one point of originality, but the screenplay by John Morris and director Sean Anders seems to have captured naught but the essence of the teen comedy movie.  Whether this is a failing of the book or the filmmakers is unclear, but at least the film has been written, directed and performed entirely for laughs, and, on occasion, it succeeds.  The worst thing you can say is that it is no better than the rest of this overcrowded genre, but neither is it any worse.  Coming out in January though, Sex Drive is unlikely to be a turn-on for its intended audience.

Sex Drive is on UK general release from January 9th.

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