Drive Hard is the action-film equivalent of one of those folks who relentlessly speak of having it tough all over as they plan their third yearly vacation. Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) is a washed-up racecar driver moonlighting as a driving instructor in the scenic Queensland Gold Coast, while his almost distractingly gorgeous wife, Tessa (Yesse Spence), earns most of the money to support them and their precocious daughter. (If you, somehow, still reserve sympathy for Peter, it should be noted that his female co-workers are inexplicably smitten with him as well.) But Peter’s bored and feeling undervalued, in the tradition of most of American cinema’s middle-aged dipshits, though that boredom is soon relieved when a master criminal named Simon Keller (John Cusack) hires him to serve as a getaway driver for the robbery of a corrupt international bank.
The staging of that heist is a tip-off to the problems that await; as the sequence is limited to a few awkward close-ups of Cusack interspersed with shots of a fancy corporate building that have obviously little geographical relationship with the footage of the star’s exertions. It’s the scene that’s supposed to set the stage for the subsequent chase-movie shenanigans, and it’s a jumbled, incoherent blur. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith covers his action in the fashion of a 1990s TV hack, whittling every scene down to the same series of quick images that collectively connote a filmmaking philosophy best summed up as “that’ll do”: alternating close-ups of Jane and Cusack’s faces, followed by shots of cars moving at a hilariously slow clip, repeating as necessary for an interminable 92 minutes. As an action film, this action comedy is rocking four decisively flat tires.
The comedy leaves something to be desired too. Jane and Cusack are likable performers, and the latter, particularly, has seemed to rediscover his joy for acting recently in a variety of baddie roles in a string of often divertingly bizarre genre oddities. (His Richard Nixon was also the shrewdest of The Butler’s many shrewd caricatures.) But the actors aren’t given anything to work with, and the film abounds in the same functional placeholder lines that riddle the dialogue of virtually every contemporary action film. Rather than actual jokes, we’re given a conviction-free “attitude” that signals us to laugh at the film’s general lack of consequence, though even this is marred by mean-spirited (and ineptly staged) violence that appears to belong in a different movie. That violence also spotlights a morality issue that’s shaky even when graded on the extreme bell curve of boy’s action movies: Peter and Simon indirectly trigger the deaths of at least a dozen people, but we’re to celebrate Simon for helping Peter become a man who can look his wife right in the eye again before screwing her like she hasn’t been screwed in years. It’s an offensively retrograde fantasy, but the film peddling it is too incompetent to bother getting worked up over. The film’s title is revealed to be an overcompensating Freudian slip.