License to Drive (1988) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some crude and sexual humor, and language
Running time: 88 min.
Cast: Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Richard Masur, Carol Kane, Heather Graham, Michael Manasseri, Nina Siemaszko, James Avery
Director: Greg Beeman
Screenplay: Neil Tolkin
Corey Haim (Watchers, Lucas) plays Les, a high-strung teenager on the verge of going for his driver's license and gaining his freedom to go wherever he wants without the embarrassment of his hapless dad (Masur, Nightmares) taking him. He fails his written portion, but after lying to his family about passing, he's grounded for two weeks, right on the evening he's supposed to take his hot date, Mercedes (Graham, Drugstore Cowboy), out for a night on the town. Not able to pass a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity up, Les steals his grandpa's Caddy and picks up Mercedes, ever-mindful of not damaging the car and getting it in time before his parents wake up. The nightmare begins once he's pressured into escorting his buddies into seedier parts of town.
Here's a case where on-screen cast charisma is the main attraction. License to Drive reunites Lost Boys stars Haim and Feldman (Stand by Me, The Goonies), now working directly with each other in starring roles, and it remains their most memorable and enjoyable team-up (sorry Lost Boys fans). In typical 1980s teen film fashion, the film features a great deal of inventive visual energy, a nonstop hit soundtrack, and plenty of goofing around (including the breaking of the fourth wall to clue us in on the comedy). It also features un-typically good roles for the parents, who aren't painted as shallow or uncaring as other films of this ilk, with Masur and Kane (The Princess Bride, Annie Hall) also getting their share of laughs in trying to keep their motley club of children from going too far, though unsuccessfully.
The supporting cast is equally appealing, with the debut of Heather Graham in a big-screen starring role (though not quite her breakthrough), and plenty of scenes full of choice character actors like James Avery ("The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") as Les' DMV driving test examiner and Helen Hanft Stardust Memories) as the DMV rep who administers the written portion.
The plot itself is rather predictable, but some of the action and comedy is genuinely inspired. It's hard not to find scenes like Les driving his family in reverse all the way to the hospital, or in the interactions with his likeable but disappointed father. My biggest question throughout is how such an ugly geezer-mobile Cadillac could be seen as a cool ride by Les and his friends.
License to Drive may not be a great film, and the tank eventually does hit "E" some time before the ending, but it's still an enjoyable ride nonetheless. It's a definite genre staple for 1980s teen flick enthusiasts, which explains its constant cable airings. Good use of a hit-filed soundtrack also adds to the 1980s energetic flavor. In the end, it might be nothing more than a simple slapstick endeavor, but the cast is certainly game enough to give it their all.
©2007 Vince Leo