A high-speed muscle-car of a thriller, Nicolas Winding Refn’s exhilarating “Drive” pumps up its B-movie, heist-gone-bad chassis with arty direction and a go-for-broke performance by Ryan Gosling.
The star, his Travis Bickle stare in place, plays Driver, a Hollywood stunt man by day, getaway driver by night. Danish director Refn wastes no time demonstrating Driver’s skills --and his own -- with an opening car chase that makes “Bullitt” look like an old Hal Roach two-reeler.
Wickedly cast, “Drive” features Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) as Driver’s agent, a two-bit crook and grease monkey who sees the talented wheel man as his ticket to stock car fortune.
For seed money, the agent turns to a mobbed-up ex-movie producer (Albert Brooks, revelatory in a sly, vicious performance) and his vulgar, violent partner (Ron Perlman).
Driver, meanwhile, has struck up a protective friendship with waifish neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos). When Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, Driver backs off romantically but gets drawn into the ex-con’s criminal doings.
The two story lines eventually merge, but not before several bloody shocks of violence and an unexpected death or two. Hossein Amini’s script, based on James Sallis’s novel, is ruthlessly efficient. We learn nothing of Driver’s back story, but who needs the baggage?
“Drive,” from FilmDistrict, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ****
Rod Lurie’s blunt, bloody remake of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” does away with the original’s moral ambiguity and thorny philosophy, provoking little beyond cathartic whoops when the bad guys meet their gruesome ends.
The basics remain: A cultured, civilized man is reduced to violence (or rises to it) after a gang of backwoods thugs rapes his wife and lays siege to his home. Lurie transports the original setting from rural England to the Deep South, indulging in more redneck stereotypes than a Jeff Foxworthy routine.
James Marsden and Kate Bosworth play David and Amy Sumner, a successful Hollywood couple (he writes, she acts) who move back to the wife’s rural hometown. The family farm needs some repairs, so David hires a crew of locals that includes Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), Amy’s resentful, psychotic ex-boyfriend.
The inevitable showdown is on the moment David orders a light beer.
Peckinpah’s film -- better discussed than watched -- infamously hinted at Amy’s complicity in her rape. That unpalatable notion is jettisoned here, along with anything approaching nuance: Lurie’s name for this fictional backwater? Blackwater.
“Straw Dogs,” from Screen Gems, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2
‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’
With only a slight downgrade in cast, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” could take a spot among those harried-mom TV movies crowding any Lifetime holiday season. Sarah Jessica Parker strains amiability in yet another formulaic, unfunny romantic comedy.
Flatly directed by Douglas McGrath, “I Don’t Know” stars Parker as a Boston financial manager juggling career, marriage and motherhood, mourning the snowmen she’ll never build with the kids.
With its unsavvy depiction of finance and “Working Girl”- era gags, “I Don’t Know” hits one false note after another. Parker pushes the Carrie Bradshaw coquetry beyond natural limits, wringing zero sympathy for the rich-people problems onscreen.
“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
“Harold & Maude” minus wrinkles, Gus Van Sant’s “Restless” is as mopey as any death-romanticizing teenager.
Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper, Dennis’s son) and Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska) -- one as pretty as the other -- meet cute at a funeral. He dresses like a thrift-store Rimbaud and talks to the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot. She looks like Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” and faces terminal cancer with “Love Story” pluck.
A less pretentious film might have had some fun with the notion of a kamikaze rebounding from suicide only to get stuck with two moody teens. “Restless” isn’t that movie.
“Restless,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)