Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sex Drive

Listen closely, America, for I shall let you in a minor cinematic secret: Sex Drive, the teen sex / road trip comedy from several weeks back that you probably didn't see (judging from its $8.4m box office haul), is actually a really good movie and one of my favorite comedies of 2008, right up there with Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. In fact it has an above-average shot at making the cut for my top ten favorite films of the year. Critical response was lukewarm, but film critics are in general spineless follow-the-leader lemmings, so who gives a shit.

I'll be first to admit that the skeletal plot is utterly generic: Ian, an awkward-yet-well-meaning high school nerd, is about to graduate a virgin, to his eternal shame. But a slutty girl on the Internet offers to have sex with him, so Ian and his two friends steal his brother's car to drive across the country so he can get laid, with his brother in hot pursuit to cockblock. Various road trip shenanigans ensue; car problems, angry rednecks, crazy hitchhikers, thieves, a pitstop in an Amish village, the characters getting arrested, etc., all in pursuit of the legendary pussy. Basically, a combination of the high school virgin plot and road trip plot you've seen a hundred times each.

But the immense charm of the movie lies not in originality, of which there is little, but in wonderful execution, specifically in surprisingly nuanced and really, really likable protagonists. The three friends who share the bulk of the film's screen time have solid comic rhythm and chemistry together and consistently great dialogue that's never too witty or cute or eye-rollingly vulgar just for the sake of vulgarity. And perhaps most importantly, outside of their grand theft auto they come across as genuinely good, warm, likable people with a believable friendship.

One of Ian's two friends and road trip companions is Felicia, a girl who he's secretly had a crush on for years, and it doesn't take a fucking genius to figure out where the direction of the story is going as the two longtime friends bond on their mission for Ian to sleep with an Internet skank he's never met, but again, the execution is charming and it's essentially impossible not to root for the pair.

The casting is superb. Ian is played by Josh Zuckerman, who I'd never heard of or seen in anything before Sex Drive, but he calls to mind the neurotic, awkward charm of John Cusack in his teen movies a couple decades back. His two friends are played by Clark Duke of Clark & Michael fame, who does ribald vulgarity (as all cinematic best friends must) with cheerful spunk, and Amanda Crew, who I also hadn't heard of but who has terrific chemistry with Zuckerman. James Marsden (of Cyclops in X-Men fame) plays Ian's lunatic homophobic older brother and is hilarious.

I also enjoyed the movie's depiction of the Internet; even in 2008 the treatment of modern technology by 95% of Hollywood movies is nothing short of embarrassing, and it was good to see a mainstream comedy comfortably, confidently, and more or less accurately incorporate instant messenger, blogs, and YouTube into the plot.

But ultimately what I enjoyed is that there's hardly a shred of cynicism in the movie. It's filthy as hell, yes, as a teen sex comedy must be; there's boners and blowjobs and piss porn and a scat fetishist and naked breasts aplenty, but it's nearly Capraesque in its unyielding faith in the essential goodness of humanity. Except for a couple thieves basically everyone our heroes meet on their journey ends up being good at heart and helping them on their way, from the psychopathic older brother to a seemingly homicidal redneck to prison inmates.

In that way it's basically the opposite of the shitty teen comedy College from this summer that was so inherently vile it made me feel positively grimy to watch. Beneath Sex Drive's cum-drenched exterior beats an idealistic heart. Not to mention it's funny as hell, not as hysterical as last year's Superbad, but a very fine teen comedy that I hope finds more success on DVD.

4 Stars out of 5

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