Move over Gosling, Mark Dacascos did it first!
Released in 1997 this kung-fu extravaganza is nothing short of miraculous. The story is paper-thin and the budget is nominal but none of that matters when the action reaches high-octane levels of excitement. Toby (Mark Dacascos) is a cybernetically enhanced kung-fu master whose former employer wants the technology buried in his chest.
By itself, this is a strange premise but it only gets weirder. Toby uses a little bribery to coerce Malik (Kadeem Hardison), a down on his luck songwriter, to drive him from San Francisco to LA. This unlikely friendship yields some excellent banter and pithy one-liners. Hardison brings some palatable anxiety to the role. His cartoonish levels of befuddlement are nicely balanced against Dacascos’ straight man persona.
Mark Dacascos, a Hunted Man
Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) a cowboy-themed bounty hunter, his faithful servant Hedgehog (Tracey Walter) and an endless supply of henchmen are in constant pursuit. The chase has a Looney Toon approach that works nicely within the tone of the film. The faceless goons go toe-to-toe with Dacascos at a breakneck pace and he dispatches them with the ease of Bugs Bunny himself. Madison starts off with a lot of potential be a goofy nemesis but his shtick never evolves and only becomes more of a burden. He relies on it too much and by the end of the movie he just isn’t threatening enough. His disposal is such an after thought you almost feel sorry for him.
The movie sells itself as an action bonanza and it does not disappoint. Dacascos is a hell of a delivery system for all sorts of insane stunts. His willingness to do anything is uncanny. The film does an excellent job utilizing his skills throughout. The fight scenes have a decent flow relying less on cuts instead showing its confidence in Dacascos to connect with each and every high kick.
The Man Has Ultimate Kicks and Charm
Even so, the fighting is hampered by their repetitive nature. Toby must land a thousand kicks in this movie but by time the movie reaches the credits you wish you’d seen a little more variety. This creates a little boredom during the middle stretches of the film but once the hotel explodes with a fireball big enough to see from space you’re back on board.
Despite his straight man approach Dacascos brings a lot of easy, honest magnetism to Toby. Before he even announces himself you already like him. Dacascos may never win an Oscar but he knows how to capitalize on his natural abilities. His easy going style of acting also makes him a terrific adversary in movies like “John Wick: Chapter Three.” An empathetic villain is generally pretty memorable and Dacascos acts like a cheat code for those types of characters. In this movie he’s even a triple threat. His karaoke scene is by far of the most memorable scenes in the movie rivaling Van Damme’s dance moves in “Kickboxer.” It’s one of the strangest and funniest moments ever found in an action film. It’s heaven on celluloid.
But Holw Ultimate is it?
Another bit of heavenly celluloid is Deliverance Bodine (Brittany Murphy) a young woman with a crush on Malik. She brings a vibrant, raw energy to the movie. She isn’t acting she’s just enjoying every minute of screen time she can get her hands on. She sadly disappears too soon but her gigawatt performance isn’t easily forgettable.
The film’s budget also forces it to showcase some fairly standard locations. The shipping freighter and abandoned factory are especially bland. The only location with any real life is the club where the climatic action takes place. This boss fight doesn’t stand out as much as it should simply because the even more powerful cyborg never removes his bizarrely long trench coat to do battle. He still moves with grace and fluidity but something about that trench coat is just too peculiar. What’s he hiding under there? An earlier fight involving stun batons (a scene clearly repurposed later in Blade 2) is more visceral and engaging.
Dacascos doesn’t need cyber enhancements to be an action star and “Drive” proves this with all the pageantry of a brand new sports car.