Apparently, Cannonball Run casts a longer shadow than film history would have us believe. This month alone, audiences were greeted with Redline, a cross-country car chase movie featuring the personal exotic car collection of producer Daniel Sadek, and “Drive,” a hype-heavy midseason action drama with an ensemble cast and a whole lot of vehicles.
While Redline failed to crack the top 10 at the box office, “Drive” shows some serious energy and could add a welcome jolt of nitrous to FOX’s increasingly fatigued Monday night schedule.
“Drive” follows the roadmap laid out by all ensemble-cast car chase movies: a bunch of random strangers are invited to participate in an illegal, no-rules, cross-country car race. The gimmick here is that each participant must leave immediately, in the first car available, following a series of cryptic clues I.M.ed to them on their cell phones. The first person to the finish line gets $32 million in cash.
To help jazz up the drama, the show features a mysterious conspiracy, not unlike “Prison Break” or “Lost.” Seems an unknown person or persons is behind this race. And, whoever they are, they’re not above a certain level of murderous intrigue to keep folks in the race. In addition to the high-speed hijinks, we get plenty of flashbacks clueing us in to the backstories of various racers, explaining how and why they got into this race.
“Drive” doesn’t operate so well under the strict terms of logic. Why someone would pay millions of dollars every year (for the last 30 years, apparently) just to have people haul ass across America isn’t exactly clear. How the gaggle of racers burn rubber every week without ending up in jail is another puzzler--although, lots of sinister suggestions tell us the mysterious figures behind this race may have an almost “Dharma Initiative”-like control over the fate of all humans on Earth. Plus, the series moves at such a rapid clip, there’s hardly time to ponder the preposterous nature of it all.
Our main hero is working-class dude Alex (Nathan Fillion from “Firefly”), whose wife has been kidnapped. He has no interest in joining this marathon until a jovially sinister race official (longtime character actor Charles Martin Smith) intimates that maybe she’s waiting for him at the finish line. Balancing out the righteous fury of our hero is our coterie of other characters. We’ve got the slightly looney housewife (Melanie Lynskey from “Two and a Half Men”) on the run from her abusive husband. We’ve got the desperate woman with the secret past (Kristin Lehman, hopping on board after a couple eps of “Prison Break”). There’s the streetwise cutie (Hustle & Flow’s Taryn Manning), the motorcycle-mounted senior citizens and a few dozen others who will be explored--no doubt--as the season wears on.
“Drive” is one of those high-concept series that will surely burn out in season two or (god forbid) season three. But, for now, it’s a zippy, intriguing, occasionally tongue-in-cheek collision of “Lost” and “Wacky Races.”