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"DRIVE ME CRAZY"
(1999) (Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Grenier) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: Posing as a couple to try to make those they're romantically interested in jealous, two teenage neighbors must then contend with feelings they soon develop for one another.
PLOT:
Nicole (MELISSA JOAN HART) and Chase (ADRIAN GRENIER) have been neighbors since they were kids when they were also best friends. Around the time middle school came around, however, the two went their separate ways and now that they're high school students, their two worlds barely intersect.

It turns out that Chase has become something of a beatnik, and enjoys hanging out with his other anti- establishment friends, Designated Dave (MARK WEBBER), so named for his willingness to chauffeur the drunk, and Ray (KRIS PARK) who has a penchant for videotaping nearly everything.

On the other hand, Nicole is part of the "in" crowd, and while hanging out with friends, Alicia (SUSAN MAY PRATT) and Dee Vine (KERI LYNN PRATT), longs for Brad (GABRIEL CARPENTER), the school's blond basketball star.

When Chase's activist girlfriend, Dulcie (ALI LARTER), dumps him, however, and Nicole learns that Brad has asked a cheerleader to their school's centennial dance, she proposes a scheme that may help both of them. By posing as a couple, she figures that they can make the respective objects of their affection jealous, and thus eventually get together with them.

As they begin their ruse where Chase "cleans up" to become part of the popular crowd, their respective friends are shocked not only at their changes, but also to the apparent fact that the two are dating, a point that hits close to home when both Nicole and Chase begin to develop feelings for each other.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
As film critics, movie reviewers and/or purveyors of cinematic tidbits, we who sit in the dark surrounded by the smell of popcorn all day have various occupation related concerns. Notwithstanding the allure of waist increasing concessions or the worry of becoming more mole-like every day, one of the biggest and most prevalent obviously relates to how we'll write our review for the latest release.

That includes whether the writing will follow a serious or comic bent, and whether it should be of the gushing and congratulatory variety, or be barbed, caustic, and generally nasty. More important, however, is deciding on the actual wording to start the review, and then figuring out whether we're simply repeating the same approach we used many years and hundreds or thousands of reviews ago.

While watching 20th Century Fox's release of the latest teen-based romantic comedy, and then pondering over it on the drive home, I wondered those exact things. Should the review be funny or serious-minded? What approach would work best?

Perhaps, I thought, I could start by saying that some films are the results of recipes where the same, boring cinematic ingredients are mixed together and always result in the same outcome. Or I could mention that some films are like those old "paint by number" sets where the picture's outline is already present, and you simply fill in the areas with the correspondingly correct elements.

Of course, then I remembered that I've already started other past reviews with those two analogies. The thought then struck me, however, that, heck, if the filmmakers of "Drive Me Crazy" can make a film we've seen a thousand times before, why can't I just dig up an old review, change a few names, and be done with it?

Well, the answer is that it would be too easy, although I'll readily admit that this review will probably end up sounding rather similar to others written about lame and unimaginative, cookie cutter romantic comedies set in high school.

Released with little publicity and even less fanfare, this is the story of two high school students, one a girl who hangs with the "in" crowd, the other a boy who's an outsider. As a near nonstop soundtrack of rock and pop tunes plays throughout, the two then decide -- for reasons that aren't particularly credible -- to act like they're dating each other to make their respective, romantic "prey" jealous.

To everyone's shocked surprise ("Honest, officer, I certainly didn't see the plot development coming"), the two then start falling for each other. A breakup of sorts then follows where the two wallow about while thinking of each other, but by the end of the film at the big dance (a prom masquerading as the school's centennial dance), the two get back together again. Ever seen or heard that story before? Do you have enough body digits to count how many times? I don't, and I'm certain they're all present and accounted for.

Adapting Todd Strasser's novel, "How I Created My Perfect Prom Date," director John Schultz ("Bandwagon") and screenwriter Rob Thomas (a novelist and staff writer for TV's "Dawson's Creek") have delivered a film that's not only a definition of predictable cinema, but one that's also as flat as a pancake.

Beyond the fact that we know every step (or misstep, if you will) the film will take, we don't care about any of the characters, their goals, or the outcome of the film (notwithstanding our prior innate knowledge of how things will culminate).

While the film has limited potential from the start, some does exist. Yet the filmmakers near completely abandon such elements and/or constantly miss the targets. Clearly, the concept of kids from different high school cliques clashing isn't even remotely novel, but if handled correctly it can be fun, especially if the participants have to pose as one of the "enemy."

Although the film does take that approach -- but only in one direction with Chase "cleaning up" for Nicole -- it never goes far enough. As such, neither side is appropriately examined, exposed, or skewered for the audience's enjoyment. Beyond Chase's ex-girlfriend stating that she never expected him to "fall into the Gap" (referring to his new clothing choices) and some forced bits of comparing high school pep rallies to Nazi Germany, the film simply avoids a great deal of comedic potential.

Likewise, the whole bit of the characters trying to make the object of their affection jealous by seeing someone else (in this case, Nicole or Chase) is similarly mishandled. Whereas that's their stated goal and a proactive approach at doing so could have generated some classic funny moments, the filmmakers instead imbued the characters with more of a reactive (and occasionally not at all active) style. To no one's surprise, that comes off as rather boring to watch, especially when we don't fully buy into Chase's motivation to participate in the first place.

Missing those decent opportunities for humor -- one can only imagine the characters racing back and forth in appearance and behavior from one school clique to the other, alternating efforts to make the others jealous -- the film consequently comes off as quite a dud.

The performances from the mostly young cast don't help matters much. While Melissa Joan Hart (TV's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," "Clarissa Explains It All") is a decent actress, two nagging problems frustrate her attempt here. For one, she simply looks and acts too old to be a high school teenager (she's 23). Worse yet, though, is that we don't particularly like her character as it's written, and few performers can overcome something like that.

Playing her pseudo boyfriend, Adrian Grenier ("The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," "Celebrity") is similarly stuck with an underwritten, less than involving character. Far more enjoyable in his early beatnik-like persona than in his later transformation as part of the "in" crowd, Grenier brings some charm to his role, but not enough to make us care about his character, particularly when considering his far superior performance in "Sebastian Cole."

Supporting performances are mostly rote for a teen-based comedy -- meaning they're generally unremarkable -- although Ali Larter ("Varsity Blues," the upcoming "The House on Haunted Hill") shows the most life and promise among them. Otherwise, everyone's as flat and predictable as the overall production.

All in all, while the film isn't gratingly horrible, it simply doesn't deliver anything that you haven't already seen countless times before. While a few teens may be drawn to and/or enamored by it (in a weekly TV episode type fashion), there's absolutely nothing present to recommend the film. As such, "Drive Me Crazy," an appropriately titled film -- for the effect it will have on those who hate predictable, paint by number, cookie cutter productions -- rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed September 27, 1999 / Posted October 1, 1999


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