2014 / Director. Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I adore Brian Trenchard-Smith. I hold him in the highest regard amongst some of my favourite directors. His films from the 70s and 80s are amongst some of the best Australia has ever produced and his contribution to Aussie cinema is irrefutable. As the cinematic landscape changed during the 90s he found himself relegated to sub-par TV movies and second-rate direct-to-video tosh. That is not to say that he wasn't doing some really interesting work because he definitely was. He always managed to produce movies that offered a higher entertainment value than most of the less glamorous video movies at the time. The last few years have been especially kind to Brian with a string of accomplished films that see him itching his way back to a credible and competitive platform. He made an ecological disaster movie called ARCTIC BLAST which, while still very much a b-movie, was high in concept and entertainment value. He then stepped it up a notch with the theatrically released ABSOLUTE DECEPTION starring Cuba Gooding Jnr. It was a whiplash production shot in QLD that saw a glimpse of the Trenchard-Smith we came to love all those years ago. And now comes his latest film, DRIVE HARD. Thomas Jane plays a retired race-car driver who works part time as a driving instructor. His day takes a violent turn when his newest student turns out to be a career criminal who robs a bank midway through a lesson. Suddenly Jane's character finds himself held at gunpoint and forced to become the getaway driver. The two speed off into the Queensland hinterland while being pursued by federal police. This is a return to form for Trenchard-Smith as he relies on classic formulas and usages that he so brilliantly exploited during the 70s and 80s. The script is tight and the story moves along at a nice pace, plus a lot of conventions are exploited yet never disproportionately. I kept having nostalgic flashbacks to films like The Junkman and other 70s chase movies and one of Brian's own classics, BMX BANDITS, was constantly on my mind. The chase sequences through Surfer's Paradise in this film were very reminiscent of the style of BMX and it was a beautiful thing to see again. Thomas Jane and John Cusack have a good chemistry and never take the material too seriously. This is very much a comedy as much as it is an action and both actors embrace the lighter side. I would guess that both treated the production as something of a vacation yet they gave it their all nonetheless. The film was originally written with Jean Claude Van Damme in the lead, however he pulled out and the script was re-written with the story relocated to Australia. I actually think that Van Damme walking away from it was to its advantage. This very American-style action adventure with two yanks as fish out of water plays to its strengths. The one grievance I do have with DRIVE HARD, which could be a deal breaker for many, is that the chase sequences are too slow. With the muscle cars featuring heavily in this story they are never truly utilised. What should be a high-octane affair does (ever-so-slightly) miss its RPM mark. I was able to overlook this factor for the most part but perhaps a few sped up road shots (Mad Max style) might have lifted it to something truly spectacular. Perhaps there's opportunity to be had in a director's cut... nevertheless DRIVE HARD is a welcome return to theatrical form for Brian Trenchard-Smith and I hope that he's got more to come.