License to Drive (1988)

27 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“License to Drive” seems like it’s going somewhere special. It has the premise of a kid failing his driving exam yet he still wants to drive. You would expect something fresh to come from this idea. But you’d be wrong. Instead, “License to Drive” gives us an entire second half of complications, out-of-control, near-death car accidents (none of which fatal but they’re still not funny), and a long chase sequence. That’s too bad too, because the first half is quite amusing.

The movie stars Corey Haim as an average teenager named Les. Like many high school students, he has a crush on the pretty girl in school—in this movie, she has the nice name of Mercedes—and really wants to drive. But of course, he isn’t focused enough in studying, and his wild, reckless best friend Dean (Corey Feldman, who co-starred with Haim in “The Lost Boys”) isn’t very motivational—“You’ve been a passenger in a car all your life—you don’t need to study.” Les does, however, have a brainy twin sister who studies very hard. When it’s time to take the test, his sister passes, but Les is unfortunate enough to fail. Even more unfortunately, he already scheduled a date with Mercedes (Heather Graham) that he certainly can’t bail on now. So Les asks (right to the camera, breaking the fourth wall and letting us know that we’re in for a different movie), “An innocent girl, a harmless drive, what could possibly go wrong?” There’s always a line like that in these movies.

I wish “License to Drive” hadn’t driven down that route, so to speak, because the first half is most enjoyable. Corey Haim plays a different character than he plays in “Lucas.” While his character in “Lucas” was more original, his character in “License to Drive” is more the same as any other teenager. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because we can identify with him as he goes through his high school problems—wanting to impress the girl, living with his family, and taking the driving exam. Haim is appealing here. Even more so are his family, with Carol Kane as the pregnant mother (I love the bit where she fixes herself a full plate of mashed potatoes with ketchup all over them and says as her teenaged kids look in disbelief, “For your information, this is exactly what I ate when I was pregnant with all of you and you turned out OK.” That’s a great line.) And Richard Masur who is a riot as Les’ overreacting (well, not really overreacting but he shouts a lot) father. Then there’s the scene in which Les takes the test. First, he must take the computer exam (kind of odd, considering he was supposed to take that long before, but oh well). We feel the pain on Les’ face as he tries to get questions right. This scene captures feelings of desperation and the want to drive. Les fails but since his twin sister passed (and with the computers conveniently crashing after Les hits the computer in frustration), he is allowed to take the driving part of the exam. This is the funniest scene in the movie. His driving instructor, played by James Avery, is a military man who uses a cup of coffee (filled to the brim) instead of a clipboard. He tells this scared kid that if that coffee spills on his pants, he fails.

Well, that’s pretty much my review of the first half of the movie, which deserves three-and-a-half stars. But then the long second half approaches us and the film has gone downhill. Les is willing to steal his grandfather’s Cadillac to take Mercedes on a date. Only problem is, he has no license. So the script calls for all sorts of incidents to occur—none of them particularly funny, which is what the main purpose is with this movie being a comedy.

It’s sad to see a movie with comic potential go downhill like this. I really liked the first half of this movie—it had insight, good humor, appealing characters, and true moments of fear of looking like an idiot while trying to impress your dream girl. But they all go through the wrong lane (OK, enough driving puns) as “License to Drive” approaches a dead end (OK, I lied).

Maybe cars themselves are not very funny. What can you do with a piece of metal and machinery that could possibly be funny? Crashes aren’t funny. Cars spinning out of control aren’t funny. Chases aren’t funny. So what can be done with cars as humor? I wish the writers of “License to Drive” took more time thinking of an answer to that question.

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