If you were to look at the cover art for Lionsgate’s The Driver, you’d see star Mark Dacascos (The Driver), standing in all black, holding a gun, with a grey background and nothing else, and it might be fair for you to think this is just another knockoff action film. But you’d be wrong. Because The Driver is just another knockoff action film, but with zombies!...
…That’s right. This isn’t just another flick with a brooding hero spouting off corny tough guy one-liners as he pops a cap in someone’s head. And let’s be honest, zombified brain-munchers make everything better. Except for in the case of The Driver. Written by Steve Poirier and directed by Wych Kaosayananda (Tekken 2), The Driver is set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overrun by the undead, leaving nothing but “assholes”, as our rugged hero describes. The Driver, an ex-hitman, has settled into life at a poorly defended colony with his wife, Sharon (Julie Condra) and daughter, Bree (Noelani Dacascos). But when zombies attack the colony and leave The Driver bitten, he flees with his daughter to a safe-zone called “Haven”, teaching Bree how to survive along the way.
If I took the time to list off zombie films that follow that exact same premise between a grown man and a little girl, we’d be here all day. And look, nothing about this film is going to surprise the average undead fan, so let’s get that out of the way. The Driver is, in every sense, a melting pot of “badass” action movie clichés. Much of the film is told through The Driver’s expositional voiceover, delivered with a monotone indifference from Dacascos. He’s a man with a “dark and mysterious past”, an expert at killing, and may God help anyone who accuses him of being spiritual, as he makes sure to correct the leader at the colony he only prays for peace and nothing else, after it’s implied he prays at all. All that’s missing is a drug/alcohol addiction. If there were a drinking game for every cliché that pops up in The Driver, I would’ve been dead in the first ten minutes.
The Driver is a film that lives and dies on how far its audience is able to go with a premise about as exciting as a kid’s birthday clown, good for the occasional, completely unintentional laugh. The film opens on (go figure) The Driver driving the cleanest, post-apocalyptic, Fast and the Furious wannabe car that I have ever seen, as he contemplates on the world and its zombie problem. Here’s an actual quote describing the zombies:
“The smallest noise drew them out like flies. Not smells or sights. Noise. No one knew why.”
Um, what!? No one knew why? Maybe because sound gets the attention of literally anything with ears? Now see, this is what I mean, my horror loving fiend. For me, this sort of dialogue that sounds as if it was written by a computer forced to watch thousands of action movies and write a script, makes a film highly enjoyable. But it’s not for most people. Actors whose performances seem tired and disinterested, combined with the filmmakers flexing the power of bad tough guy dialogue, fit this film squarely into a niche group of those who like their beer shitty and their films cooked in artery clogging grease.
To be honest, I’m surprised The Driver shows so much restraint as to withhold any explosions until twenty-seven minutes in (the only one, actually…that we see on screen). Once that happens and the zombies swarm the “colonists” like they’re a Thanksgiving day feast, we find The Driver and innocent Bree on the road, headed for “insert standard pleasant sounding place here”. At this point, the film might as well say, “hope you enjoyed those little bits of zombie action, because that’s it”. That explosion I mentioned? It’s possible that’s where all of the budget went, because not only do the zombies only have light makeup applied to their faces, but they’re hardly used again for the remaining hour. Hell, the film’s gore budget even seems pretty low, with the undead mouthing their victims rather than doing much biting. But hey, if you picked up The Driver, it’s because you want to see a lot of driving, right?
Bitten and trying to contain the secret from Bree, The Driver spends the next hour following familiar steps along “The Hero’s Journey”. The Driver teaches Bree how to survive, even conducting weapons training…in the freaking car! And yes, I do mean with live bullets. The hilarious improbability of that aside, these moments in the car between Bree and The Driver are actually where the film is at its strongest. The writing in these moments isn’t exactly stellar, but The Driver’s inability to tell Bree about his bite and Bree’s unwillingness to accept anything is wrong allow for moving performances from both Mark and Noelani Dacascos, each of whom seem to be pulling from genuine emotion. They are related, after all.
I can’t say that The Driver doesn’t live up to its title. Viewers are certainly treated to a whole lot of driving, to an extent where I even began to wonder if The Driver might actually be one long car commercial. With music that sounds like a Final Fantasy save point and a severe lack of the undead, The Driver can at times come off as lifeless as the creatures occasionally chewing up its scenery. The Driver likely has a date with the bargain movie bin ahead of it, but for those like me, there are worse ways to spend ninety minutes than taking a ride with this action-flick which takes very little brains to enjoy.
The Driver is now out on VOD/DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka