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Car trouble: Drive



Drive (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Drive is a movie about sexy people and cars. Or maybe it's a movie about movies about sexy people and cars. Or maybe not cars, but the experience of being in them, with sexy people.

It's ridiculous, but differently than you might expect — neither all that fast nor especially furious. Oh sure, there's some grisly gun violence and a car chase or two, and it does get rather stabby in the end. But the prevailing tone is one of affected composure.

Now, this is not a film for the Henry James crowd, if there even is such a thing as a Henry James crowd, and probably no one will see Drive because it was scripted by Hossein Amini, heretofore best known for adapting The Wings of the Dove. Certainly there is such a thing as an ultraviolence-and-shallow-style crowd, and some people will see Drive because it was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, heretofore best known for making Bronson. But most people will see Drive to see Ryan Gosling drive.

Gosling's nameless protagonist chews toothpicks and commands attention. By day, he's a mechanic and occasional Hollywood stunt driver; by night, a freelance getaway artist. At all hours, he is sexy. Laconic, self-possessed, movie-hero-like. Actually, he doesn't even chew the toothpicks. Just rests them in his pretty mouth.

Gosling's gift for slick machismo is unparalleled. His fortitude, which here derives from great timing, is undeniable. When you want to try the neat trick of using stillness to keep your movie moving, he's the guy to call.

At one point the driver's hapless boss, played by Bryan Cranston, says, "You put this kid behind the wheel, there's nothing he can't do." And it doesn't matter that the dialogue is dumb, because it also seems so true. Later the driver's neighbor, played by Carey Mulligan, makes eyes at him and soon enough, he's carrying her sleepy tot to bed, in slow motion no less. Retro synth-pop swells up on the soundtrack, and she's done for.

Then her husband, (Oscar Isaac), gets out of prison, and things get tense. But it's nothing a few well-built movie clichés can't handle. These include the One Last Job and the Heist Gone Wrong and involve Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, thugging it up. Eventually Mad Men's Christina Hendricks wanders in, as if expecting not a part in a movie so much as a cross-promotional opportunity for some glossy magazine spread.

This all suits Refn, a Dane, who'd like to remind us that he was born with the sort of detachedly Euro-arty sensibility that others would kill for. Especially in its most Miami Vice-ish moments, as Drive delves deep into its neon-lit night of the soul, you can imagine Michael Mann stoically seething with envy.

The movie continues being differently ridiculous. Gosling gets more slo-mo gallantry to work with. Amini gets some credit for having adapted a novel, by James Sallis, in a way that doesn't seem at all bookish. And Refn quietly gets off on it all.

Just look how straight-facedly he lingers on his pink cursive credits, or the embroidered scorpion on the back of Gosling's jacket, or a musical send-off from College and Electric Youth, characterizing this dreamy driver, with breathy, synthy, highly catchy hopefulness, as "a real human being, and a real hero." Totally fake, of course. But just look.

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Hossein Amini

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston

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