Please believe me

If you’re an intelligent patron of the arts (which you must be if you’re reading GameSpite, baby), you honestly don’t have much practical use for professional criticism. Whether it’s games or films, your senses are well-honed enough to accurately predict a product’s worth to you at a glance — nine times out of ten, at least. It’s in that rare one-out-of-ten case that a savvy individual stumbles upon something that by all appearances should be irredeemable dreck but is actually delightful, whereupon he makes it his burden to preach to his skeptical peers the correction of an undeserved appraisal.

Prepare your disbelief, then, as I present you with a big one: Sex Drive is actually a really good movie.

[[image:nn_081029_sexdrive_01.jpg:Even they can’t believe it.:center:0]]

I know! I know. I didn’t believe Andy when he said so, either. If you’ve seen the trailers on TV, you have every reason to think this is nothing more than another bottom-tier slapstick sex comedy in the tradition of Road Trip and EuroTrip and Scary Movie 7: TurkmeniTrip. If you don’t bother with television (because, again, you are a genius), the wacky Mexican donut costume that is the focus of all multimedia advertisements inspires about as much confidence. And even as the movie begins, the premise is suspect: lusty-but-awkward male youth travels the countryside for guaranteed sex with a girl he flirts with on the Internet. But where Sex Drive gradually, then absolutely defies expectations is in its nuanced characterizations, portrayed most abundantly by a series of some of the most well-cast bit and supporting actors I’ve ever seen.

Including standbys of the genre, subversions of old tropes, and entirely original archetypes, the minor roles punch up nearly every scene while remaining just understated enough to defy gimmickry. Clark Duke (of the legitimately hilarious Clark and Michael) plays the main character’s super-popular friend and philosophical advisor, whose boundless confidence and self-aware charm are silently juxtaposed with the fact that he looks even more like a chubby, gnomish Lesbian than Patton Oswalt (who prides himself on the resemblance). Seth Green is fascinating as film’s first sarcastic Amish man, and while that concept might sound like a cheap laugh, the sarcasm used isn’t the mean, obvious variety you’d find in any other movie; it’s the merciless, diabolically cerebral kind that keeps the recipient perpetually uncomfortable. This extra effort in design makes even the smallest parts memorable.

But the supporting cast is just that, and in between their stray moments lies the overarching tale of Kid Tries to Get Laid. Perhaps most surprisingly, even this old trick manages to rise above convention. Given my early trepidation, lead Josh Zuckerman at first came off as a flustered, horny stand-in for Jason Biggs in American Pie; yet as the plot unfolded, I was extremely pleased to find he’s actually a flawed but sympathetic John Cusack, as seen in any number of classic ’80s teen movies. Just with bigger eyebrows.

Sex Drive actually shares several parallels with Cusack’s The Sure Thing, although its climax has significantly more to it than either of the obvious conclusions — Kid foregoes sex with a beautiful stranger at the last minute in favor of the girl he’s spent the entire trip screeching back and forth with (aww), or Internet Love Interest turns out to be a gross old man, as is joked throughout the film (HAWW). In fact, the film is the most sensible I’ve seen in its treatment of the Internet itself; rather than just name-drop MySpace as a punchline and call itself hip, it very matter-of-factly depicts the Web’s most useful contribution to modern society: the easy and inevitable communication of public embarrassments. Whenever the core cast are caught in a particularly diminishing pratfall and indiscretion, they’re cut away from for a mere instant to be shown captured by the unblinking eye of the Internet — on a blog, or YouTube, or, yes, in one case, a porn site. It’s funny because it’s horribly, tragically true.

Despite that one sordid message, though, Sex Drive‘s most endearing aspect is its underlying appeal to the goodness of humanity. Even across the myriad settings and situations that comprise a road movie, the story has very few real villains; by the denouement, even Pimply Horndog Duo and Abusive Older Sibling are seen in a somewhat understanding light, and more or less everyone is in store for the Mega-Happy Ending. Opposed to the usual crassness of its contemporaries, it was ultimately this optimistic spirit that had me feeling so appreciative of the experience as I left the theater, and will hopefully earn the film a better reputation over time — perhaps on home video. Sex Drive loves everyone, so why wouldn’t you love Sex Drive?

10 thoughts on “Please believe me

  1. Makes me think of how Empire Records somehow became not only a 90’s classic, but one of my favorite movies ever. Crazay!

  2. Your description kinda reminds me of what I thought of Superbad. I came into it assuming it was going to be yet another stupid teen sex comedy. And for the first half hour it definitely feels that way. But then it completely subverts the whole thing, first at the adult party where they witness certain scary realities of alcohol and drugs, and then later on when the characters realize that sex isn’t all that.

  3. God Kishi your writing impresses me all over the place. And by impress, I mean I’m seriously jealous. :) The word shall be spread.

  4. But I take you still never watched Hamlet 2, then? I guess rei is just TT-cooler than me, not that that’s a surprise at all.

    Anyway this is interesting and maybe I’ll watch it, though I’m not really much for going to movie theaters.

    “In fact, the film is the most sensible I’ve seen in its treatment of the Internet itself”
    Ebert said something like this in his Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back review, and I do believe that for its time he was totally right, since in that movie which is kind of “old” now Matt Damon describes the internet as “a place where people share porn and bitch about movies.” Something like that, at least. So that’s also cool to hear.

  5. I don’t believe you… next thing you’ll say that there is actually a good Sonic game… psh!

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