Gort vs turbo-charged ninjas: Helen Cox reviews Mark Dacascos in 90s martial arts classic Drive

Stardate 27072012.2:

"So, then this guy Wang picked up my transmissions and he must've stuck them in this movie...!" an extremely odd voice was echoing down the corridors of the Mothership this week, followed by hysterical laughter. When I investigated, I found Gort and his girlfriend Helen Cox down in the main laboratory, crowded around a table. When I caught sight of what was on the table, my first thoughts were: "what is that frog doing here and why does it have a brain sticking out of its head?"

"This is Walter The Einstein Frog. He was a Commander, but his body was injured and his brain had to be emergency transferred into a frog's body," Gort explained. "So, now he's looking for a new body to transplant his brain into," Helen added.

"Why are you all looking at me?" I asked.

"I can write his post for this week?" Helen suggested in response.

To be continued...

", I was like: 'I got your Sammo Hung right here' "

Mention the film "Drive" to man, woman or child and they'll instantly produce a passport-sized picture of Ryan Gosling from their inside coat pocket and start gently caressing his perfect visage. At this point, you have to slap them hard across the face, snap them out of their Gosling gawping and inform them that you’re not talking about the 80s-infused Nicolas Winding Refn film of 2011, but the Dacascos-instilled martial arts jaunt of 1997.

Dacascos' pool-playing style was unconventional, to say the least

This cult, com-fu classic, directed by special effects big-time Steve Wang, is essentially a buddy movie with added kicks and quips. Mark Dacascos is an unstoppable assassin, complete with a bio engine in his chest, who unwittingly involves dread-locked drifter Kadeem Hardison in his plight to out run a mob of relentless hit men dispatched from China.

"Wash your windows?"

Their adventures involve dirty cops, make-shift zip-lines, an erotically-charged hotel manager played by the late Brittany Murphy, Dacascos singing karaoke, a fictional TV show called Walter the Einstein Frog and a flawlessly-choreographed fight scene involving tasers. The script is sharper than Lex Luthor. Dacascos and Hardison develop an absorbing chemistry and Murphy’s performance is nothing short of wild. John Pyper-Ferguson, who incidentally also appeared in the 2011 Drive as ‘bearded redneck’, further delivers a pitch-perfect villain who clearly went to the Glenn Close school of vengeance; refusing to give up on his target until the bitter end.

"Everybody was Kung Fu fightin' "

One of the reasons that Drive is so visually refreshing, from the set-pieces to the fight choreography, is that director Steve Wang is a man used to upping the aesthetics on films. His CV oozes cult-cool as a quick scan of IMDb reveals he is, at least in part, responsible for the special and creature effects on films such as Predator, The Monster Squad and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (and both live-action Guyver movies - Gort). The tongue-in-cheek spirit of such films is also evident in Drive, even through the tense combat scenes Wang refuses to take his material too seriously.

"Do these look like a 10 and a half to you?!"

If this film offers as much top-notch entertainment as I’m suggesting you might be wondering why it’s not better known. In an interview with Wang disclosed that the film tested very well with audiences and even had a theatrical distribution offer from Dimension Films and Trimark Pictures. The studio got panicky, however, when the investors had a political spat. They reacted in trademark fat cat style by taking the film from him, rescoring it poorly and releasing it straight to video.

Since then Wang has clearly renegotiated as the director’s cut is available on DVD, a cut that includes 17 extra minutes, and that’s the version I’m selling here. Lessons learnt from Empire Records tell us that the director doesn’t always know best but this is not the case with Wang; for its paltry $3.5 million budget this in one martial arts B flick that punches way above its weight.

Walter The Einstein Frog approves this post