Directed By Sean Anders
Starring Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Clark Duke and James Marsden
Shot down by seemingly every girl he meets in person, awkward teen virgin Ian Lafferty finds his golden ticket when he meets a gorgeous girl on the internet willing to sleep with him if he’ll travel across the country to see her. Casting aside all fear of middle aged man-rape and organ harvesting schemes, and spurred on by his womanizing buddy Lance, he steals his tormenting older brother’s car and sets off with Lance and tag-along gal pal/unrequited crush Felicia to meet his ‘net conquest and seal the deal so he can go off to college deflowered. Oh, and much wackiness happens along the way. But you knew that.
So it’s American Pie meets The Sure Thing meets every John Hughes movie you’ve ever seen meets every teen sex movie you’ve ever sat through. And yes, unfortunately, genre trappings are the Sex Drive’s primary failing, with every beat of the story being overtly obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a movie with their eyeballs. Mercifully, however, the film is infused with enough sweetness, intelligence and immensely funny performances that it’s ready to break free of the shackles of cliché faster than a 12 year old boy would from a pedophile’s sex dungeon.
This being a sex comedy, jokes involving semen, urine and feces are spread throughout the film like the most unpleasant and unappetising Delhi platter you’d ever encounter at Morrisons. Thankfully, however, writer-director Sean Anders and his co-writer John Morris have foresight enough to know just how overexposed (no pun intended) the audience has been to such lowest common denominator gags throughout the teen comedy genre, and the film keeps them sparse and relatively subtle, relying instead on more original sight gags and dialogue for its biggest laughs (the attempted arrest of a giant donut costume being notable, and far funnier than it sounds).
Sex Drive’s biggest strength however lies in its characters. Sure, the story at large is as predictable as the outcome of a game of “What would happen if I shot myself in the face?”, and makes no huge leaps to subvert that formulaic teen sex comedy structure. But where it does differ greatly from the bland low-brow films whose genre it shares is that writers Anders and Morris imbue their characters with just enough depth and intelligence to absolve any crimes of predictability.
Main character Ian is as typical a lead as you’d expect from a sex comedy – the awkward teen quickly striking out with girls and eager to lose his virginity as wacky hi-jinks ensue – but, prone to bouts of superficiality, he’s a surprisingly realistic and likeable character, with one roadside scene of his alternating between cringingly dark comedy and shockingly heartfelt.
The same is true of lead girl Felicia; she’s saddled with the ‘best friend/unrequited love’ role, and yup, their relationship and its outcome is painfully obvious from the get-go -we know they’ll toss aside all other pursuits and crushes and get together by the time the credits roll as soon as we spot them – but thankfully Anders is smart enough to not have both characters blissfully unaware of their feelings until the last minute obligatory “The girl of my dreams was right under my nose the whole time! What a fool I was, both for not noticing and for paying money to see Disaster Movie!” scene. Instead much of the film is spent discussing the “Why?”s and “What if?”s of their relationship in a way that’s surprisingly intelligent and aware. It’s not high art, and won’t deliver a shockingly profound discourse on society and relationships, but it’s nice that their relationship feels at least vaguely realistic as opposed to the one-dimensional “Caveman need sex before moral message arrive!” genre stereotypes, and the performances by and chemistry between the romantic leads help immensely.
Lance’s character too side-steps the archetypal “Wacky best pal” syndrome, being neither the geeky “Stand next to me so that I’ll look better by comparison” friend nor the shallow, boorish trouble-magnet wingman. There are definite shades of the latter, but he’s more loyal and intelligent than that and comes off as much more likeable. Plus points are given for the fact that Clark Duke carries the character with enough quirky swagger and charm that we actually believe that the pudgy metrosexual kid who dresses like Austin Powers’ retarded younger brother could actually be the suave womanizer we’re asked to believe he is.
The movies biggest laughs, however, come from the minor supporting roles, with James Marsden tossing aside his stoic Cyclops straight-man act and playing the torturous homophobic jock asshole brother with hilarious glee. One of the film’s biggest missteps though is the third-act twist his character is burdened with; it’s blatantly telegraphed early on and every member of the audience will be expecting it, and it doesn’t so much come off forced as simply trite and painfully clichéd. Still, it’s a minor irksome detail. Marsden’s a joy to watch, and a surprisingly deft comedic performer.
Shockingly, Seth Green manages to steal the movie with his sardonic guilt-tripping Amish guy act. It’s a joke that you’re thinking should wear thin 8.7 seconds after he arrives on-screen, but it’s a testament to Green’s comedic chops that he manages to be the funniest thing in the film.
It’s a film slumped in an unfortunately crowded and largely awful genre and stunted slightly by clichéd sex comedy trappings. Thankfully Sex Drive has more than enough smarts and heart to earn it a place with the stronger films it aspires to, managing to feel more like the John Hughes-era ‘80s coming-of-age comedies it pays homage to than the 3rd rate gross-out trash that litters the shelves today.
And, hell, any film that has a talking Jean Claude Van Damme poster dispensing dating advice will always have my heart.
(Review originally published at WRAWReviews.co.uk)