**/**** Image B Sound A- Extras D
starring Melissa Joan Hart, Adrien Grenier, Stephen Collins, Ali Larter
screenplay by Rob Thomas, based on the novel How I Created My Perfect Prom Date by Todd Strasser
directed by John Schultz
by Bill Chambers I've seen so many bloody teen movies over the past two years that Drive Me Crazy felt like the beginning of a new semester. All my old friends were there--the jock, the rebel, the slut--and I once again looked forward to attending a prom, here called a "Centennial." Now and again, however, the film manages to tread, if not break, new ground as it recycles that old saw about an adversarial boy and girl who fall for their own love charade as they attempt to make former sweethearts jealous. Would you believe that every single one of its characters is (gasp!) insecure?
Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart), a pert, plucky purveyor of school spirit, wants Brad (Gabriel Carpenter), the basketball team's star player, and almost had him, until he fell, quite literally, for the allure of a cutie-pie cheerleader. Chase (Adrien Grenier), mischief-maker extraordinaire, gets dumped by his activist girlfriend, Dulcie (Ali Larter), for refusing to participate in an animal-rights demonstration that is for him a bridge too far. Nicole has a brainstorm: she and Chase, neighbours but not friends, will pose as a couple when convenient, for purposes of showing up Brad and Dulcie.
Nicole insists on prepping up her fake boyfriend, and so Chase abandons his slacker duds for button-down shirts and leather jackets. She could use a more flattering wardrobe, too, as could Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, who wiped clean with a little foundation the identity of Ally Sheedy's character at the close of that film, and Can't Buy Me Love's Amanda Peterson, who wouldn't associate with Patrick Dempsey until he put mousse in his hair. Why can't Nicole undergo a transformation as well? It's an irritating custom of teen movies, as is the instant acceptance of the new-and-improved outcast among the popular.
Thankfully, Chase's makeover leads to unexpectedly insightful dialogue among his own circle of friends. Mark Webber's "Designated Dave" (so named for his willingness to chauffer drunken members of the in-crowd, even though they don't respect him in the morning) wants what Chase has gained from the arrangement; he has conflated peer acceptance with the key to self-respect, as teens will. Drive Me Crazy can be perceptive like this and is sometimes genuinely witty (notably in its hommage to Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl), and its conflict arises organically from heartfelt discussions between intelligent people (as opposed to a stock jock antagonist--though Brad is unrealized, to say the least). Its screenwriter, Rob Thomas, created the unfairly-yanked TV series "Cupid", and his original voice, that of a cautious romantic, is all over the details.
In the end, however, Drive Me Crazy doesn't go far enough in reinventing the wheel as to stand out from the pack, and falls prey to Wonder Bread Syndrome, which irked a colleague of mine who knows from experience that an all-white basketball team doesn't happen in SoCal. That Nicole never quite digs the real Chase, preferring instead the walking Gap advertisement she creates, is another sticking point. I longed for the tortured-artist sentiment of Some Kind of Wonderful, in which everyone is asked to become something they aren't, and don't fall in love with each other until they change back.
Drive Me Crazy sputters to an unfortunately souring closing scene that's there, I assume, to push the running time past the stigma of 89 minutes. (It's difficult to feign gravitas at less than 90 minutes.) Director John Schultz gives us the ending we want (granted, without much fanfare), only to dismantle his handiwork with an epilogue that drove me every synonym for "crazy" I can think of. Drive Me Crazy is at its best when it's unconventional--and at its worst when it acts like it's above convention.
Perhaps even more perplexing is Fox's decision to release Drive Me Crazy on DVD in anamorphic video, only the seventh time they have done so. Letterboxed at 1.85:1, the transfer boasts near-perfect sharpness and seemingly accurate, evenly-saturated colours, but the image is too dark for a bubblegum comedy by a country mile, with detail often lost in a muck of deep browns and blacks. The DD 5.1 mix is very clean though not particularly active; the music often sounds as good as it would in a club (that's a compliment), and some crowd activity at b-ball games makes use of the surrounds as far as effects go.
Extras include a theatrical trailer (which contains so much excised footage it could qualify as a deleted-scenes section), four distinct television spots, a video for Jars of Clay's "Unforgetful You" and a hyperlink to that band's website, plus Britney Spear's "Drive Me Crazy" clip, a headache-inducing rocker that is mercifully underused in the film itself. Which leads me to ask: should a fairly sophisticated teenage dramedy have relied so heavily in the marketing on the pneumatic Spears, a Mini Pop once removed? No wonder it bombed--the studio overlooked that delicate demographic line separating a twelve-year-old from someone thirteen.