I can state unequivocally that it has been my pleasure to have penned this column for you all these past five years. Not only have I been able to embrace my lifelong loves of writing, cars, and filmmaking in the creation of Rob’s Car Movie Review, but I’ve had the pleasure of being able to expound upon some of my favorite films of all time, such as Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop, and American Graffiti.
As you can probably imagine, it is not easy to continue to find suitable films to review month after month and keep things fresh every time on the writing front. As such, I’m constantly on the hunt for a lesser-known movie to review, or a unique angle to consider it by.
As this column marks the fiftieth iteration of Rob’s Car Movie Review, there was added pressure to do something a bit different this time. But what?
After reviewing my previous articles, it occurred to me that the overwhelming majority of the movies I picked have been set in America, and all of them have featured American muscle cars.
While this country is undoubtedly the indigenous and spiritual home of the muscle car, there are some pretty cool rides that have come from other countries too.
Using some of the ultra-top-secret means and methods at my disposal, I managed to find a car movie that is set in and predominately features cars from Australia. The flick is 2014’s Drive Hard, and it’s the fiftieth subject of Rob’s Car Movie Review!
Drive Hard was an Odyssey Media production that received limited theatrical, and wide home video distribution in the United States through Image Entertainment. Directed by B-movie helmer, Brian Trenchard-Smith, the movie was based on a screenplay by Chad Law, Evan Law, and Brigette Jean Allen.
For a decidedly low-budget production, the film has a surprisingly notable pair of lead actors in the form of John Cusack (High Fidelity, Being John Malkovitch, Con Air) and Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights, Deep Blue Sea, The Punisher). Rounding out the cast is Zoe Ventoura, Christopher Morris, and Yesse Spence.
An action/comedy set in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, Drive Hard tells the story of an American expatriate, Peter Roberts (Jane). A former highly successful race car driver, Peter gave up his beloved, but dangerous vocation after having an unplanned child with, and subsequent quickie marriage to an Australian lawyer, Tessa (Spence).
Though Tessa exerts pressure on him to get a new profession, Peter resists, preferring to be employed as a driving instructor to earn money towards one day opening a racing school.
One day Peter is hired by an odd and eccentric American, Simon Keller (Cusack), to give a driving lesson. During the course of their drive, Keller insists that they stop at a bank. Unbeknownst to Peter, Keller steals millions of dollars in bearer bonds from the depository, and after a brief shootout with security guards, compels Peter at gunpoint to use his prodigious driving skills as a getaway driver.
A pursuit involving the police ensues, in which Peter is ultimately successful in evading the authorities. Keller attempts to assuage Peter’s ire by offering to split the ill-gotten gains with him, but Peter can’t be mollified. His intention to turn himself in is stymied though once Peter and Keller learn that in addition to the local police, they are now being hunted by the Feds and a slew of contract killers hired by a crooked executive at the bank Keller robbed.
With the stakes now amped up to the maximum, Peter has no choice but to help Keller get away, and evade their pursuers en route to a boat Keller has moored at a harbor some distance away. In the process, Peter and Keller form a bond, and Peter’s interest in high-speed driving is reinvigorated.
Right off the bat, so there is no misunderstanding, Drive Hard is not a good film. Despite its star power, it suffers from many shortcomings common to low-budget B movies.
In regards to its stars, neither lead actor gives a good performance. Both Jane and Cusack play things fairly over the top at times, and straight in others. Given that both of them have had superlative acting accomplishments, one can naturally conclude that the fault is not theirs, but rather a combination of external factors.
First and foremost, it’s clear that the director did not have a good handle on maintaining a tone throughout the movie, and as a result, gave his actors inconsistent direction. Adding to that is the script which, I can assure you is no Chinatown. Full of uninspiring dialogue, and cliched set-ups and situations, the two lead thespians had very little to work with.
What’s more, the story is one you feel like you’ve seen before any number of times. It never delivers anything that stands out as unique, and never surprises with a game-shifting plot twist or additional hurdles once the narrative is initially set up. After the bank robbery, you know exactly how the film will progress and ultimately conclude.
There are also a host of continuity errors throughout the film, enough so that you could devise a pretty cool drinking game based on whenever someone’s gun changes model from scene to scene, or a prop disappears in one shot and reappears in the next. There are also plenty of gaffes, such as camera equipment and crew members in window reflections, and camera vehicles inadvertently appearing in view.
Drive Hard isn’t devoid of charms, however. Technically, many aspects of the movie are quite good. The cinematography by Tony O’Loughlan, is stylish and perpetually well framed. Likewise, Peter Carrodus’ adroit film editing provides for satisfactory overall pacing and heightened excitement during action sequences.
The best facet of the movie though is most assuredly the cars.
In the early part of the movie, we are introduced to a prime example of Australian muscle, a 1972 Ford Falcon XA GT. Produced by Ford Australia with input from Ford in the United States, the Falcon XA was available in sedan, wagon, and hardtop two-door configurations.
The car in the movie, a right-hand drive, hardtop GT model, packs a 351 Cleveland V8, good for 300 horsepower, and a three-speed automatic transmission. It is equipped with the RPO 83 package that yielded a Holley 780 carburetor and 2.25 inch exhaust. Finished in cherry red over a tan interior, the car features gloss black hood striping and NACA ducts, blacked-out exterior trim, and mag wheels shod with Bridgestone performance tires.
Sadly, we don’t see the car have the spurs put to it, rather it is driven fairly mildly through the Australian countryside for a third of the film. A shame, since I would have greatly enjoyed hearing that Cleveland rip and seen those rear tires kick up some Aussie soil.
Another beast from Oz that makes an appearance in the film is a 2014 Ford Falcon FG race car. Outfitted with a normally aspirated, 5.0 liter V8, capable of churning out 640 horsepower, mated to a six-speed, sequential transmission, the FG normally races in the outrageous Australian V8 Supercar series. Even though its appearance in the film sees it relegated to a trailer, we do get a nice look inside and outside of the car.
In keeping with the movie’s American/Australian fusion, it stands to reason that the third car featured prominently in the proceedings would be an iconic American muscle car. Indeed, halfway through the film, Peter and Keller steal a gorgeous 1969 Ford Mustang Mach I which they use to reach Keller’s final destination.
Oh, what a beauty this ride is. Painted in black with gold stripes over a black interior, the car appears to be bone stock, save for a right-hand drive conversion likely performed at the time of import to Australia.
Fitted with the same 351 Cleveland as the aforementioned Falcon XA, the film’s Mustang is equipped with a three-speed auto, which Peter repeatedly slap shifts. Replete with the optional chin splitter and rear spoiler, the car literally steals every scene it’s in. And yes, it thankfully does see some high-speed action, most notably in a pursuit involving a biker gang. Movie cars don’t get much better than this one.
Despite its failings, Drive Hard is a watchable film. It’s the sort of guilty pleasure you can enjoy late at night when you don’t want to think much about what you’re viewing. While it could have been considerably better in the hands of more talented filmmakers, the excellent cars make up a lot for what the movie is lacking. I’ll give it a generous five out of ten pistons, and say I’ve seen both better and worse.