I saw 'Drive' for a second time on Sunday night, and I'm pretty sure I liked the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed thriller. I mean, I think I did. I know it's a movie that I'm supposed to like, and I do recommend seeing it as a cultural oddity -- or an example of a type of movie that we don't see very often -- for better or worse (for all its flaws, it is interesting). But, I have a hard time getting over one aspect of 'Drive': It tricked the audience. Say what you will about the validity of CinemaScore -- and it is pretty much b-llshit -- but there is one telling aspect of 'Drive''s current C- grade from audiences: It's really hard to get a bad grade on CinemaScore. ('The Hangover Part 2,' which was awful, landed an A-.) And yet: 'Drive' pulled it off! Congratulations, 'Drive,' you're 'The American' for 2011.
The biggest problem with being someone who writes about movies for a living is realizing that the rest of the world doesn't write about movies for a living. In other words: for as much time as I put into researching what a movie like 'Drive' is going to be about -- long before it's ever screened for critics -- other people are using that time to research legal briefs for an important trial or trying to cure cancer. You know, actual important things.
The only thing a human being asks from his or her entertainment dollar and -- more important -- time, is not to be lied to. So what we have today is a movie sporting an obscene 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, while most actual moviegoers didn't care for the movie. At all. Why? Because they felt tricked. If a person in any given week has three hours of real free time and wants to spend that free time at the movie theater, a studio better be honest about the subject matter of a movie. As is the case with 'Drive': If someone is using their free time to watch an overly stylized and extremely gory art-house film, well, that should really be what that person signed up for. If a moviegoer thinks he's using his valuable time to watch Ryan Gosling drive racecars (or, really drive anything for a substantial amount of time), no matter how good 'Drive' is, that viewer is going to be pissed off. Honestly, I can't blame them. If you purchase a peach -- and all you want in the world right now is a tasty peach to get your mind off of your troubles -- you'd be livid if someone instead handed you the DVD for 'Drive' and said, "here, eat this."
At the Upper West Side of Manhattan screening of 'Drive' I saw on Sunday night, a father walked in with his six-year-old son. (I have no proof that the child is six; this is an estimate.) At first, I was a tad outraged. I felt like Tipper Gore! How could any parent bring their young child to see a movie as violent as 'Drive'? Then I reconciled the fact that I only knew 'Drive' was violent because I had seen the movie before. I mean, this poor guy might have just seen a commercial and asked, "Hey, son, want to see some cars drive fast?" Yes, the movie is rated-R, but, still: I remember the second movie I ever saw in a theater was the rated-R 'Ordinary People' -- and it would have been almost as shocking to find out that 'Ordinary People' had the amount of gore that 'Drive' has. But, Christ, 'Drive' is the triple crown of suck for a young kid: Slow, tedious, and it will give you nightmares for weeks. Awesome. Yet, I have a really hard time putting 100 percent of the blame on that father.
(After the movie, I could hear the six-year old singing singing the College song 'A Real Hero,' which features prominently in the film and plays over the credits. I'm not sure if this was out of genuine love for the song or a form of cinematic Stockholm syndrome. Regardless, it's apparent that the only thing mass audiences do overwhelmingly like about 'Drive' is the soundtrack.)
Last year George Clooney starred in 'The American.' People love George Clooney! People hated 'The American.' Did you see 'The American'? If not, humor me for a minute and watch this trailer. After you watch this, let's talk...
That was great, right? George Clooney firing guns and being involved in car chases! 'The American' looks like a suspenseful, non-stop thrill ride. In reality, 'The American' is a slow foreign film that happens to star George Clooney. That's not saying 'The American' is a bad movie, it's just that the trailer misrepresented itself. That has the tendency to piss people off. Not surprisingly, it did: 'The American' wound up with a D- CinemaScore despite a successful opening weekend. Put it this way: If people had gone into 'The Hangover Part 2' and witnessed a Todd Phillips sequel that rivaled a Fellini film, people would have hated that, too. The audience who paid to see 'The Hangover Part 2' wanted to see three guys with a hangover say bad words and get themselves into wacky hi-jinks -- and that's exactly what the audience received.
You can't trick people into seeing (in theory) a higher quality film just like you can't trick a kid into eating his asparagus by telling him it's a Twix -- the end result in both cases is partially digested slop thrown against the wall.
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