The Pleasure Drivers (2005) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely would be R for sexuality, strong violence, brief nudity, drug use, and strong language
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Lauren Holly, Angus Macfadyen, Lacey Chabert, Angelo Spizzirri, Meat Loaf, Billy Zane, Jill Bennett, Deena Dill, Steffany Huckaby, Sasha Knopf, Jason Mewes (cameo), Rachel Dratch (cameo)
Director: Andrzej Sekula
Screenplay: Adam Haynes

I'll be the first to petition that the word "Pleasure" be removed from the title, as there isn't much pleasure to be found anywhere after the opening credits have elapsed in this unfocused, convoluted, and rather pointless comedic thriller.  If you've ever wanted to see what Pulp Fiction might be like if it were directed without an overall vision, featured over-the-top actors, and married them to a witless script, The Pleasure Drivers provides the perfect opportunity to find out.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, director Andrzej Sekula got his start in the movie business as the cinematographer for Pulp Fiction, as well as Reservoir Dogs, but shows very little of Tarantino's gift for handling characters and dialogue, which is sorely needed to make this farfetched, eccentric vehicle work.

The script by first-time screenwriter Adam Haynes weaves together three separate storylines.  The primary story involves Lauren Holly (What Women Want, Entropy) as caregiver Daphne, who has spent most of her waking moments for some time tending to the needs of Tom (Spizzirri, The Rookie), who has been suffering from a mental condition caused by severe head trauma that makes him a bit unstable.  Daphne has been upset that Tom's father, the head of a cult-like church, has been receiving $100,000 a year to tend to Tom, but has kept the money mostly to himself, while paying Daphne so little, she can't even afford to keep up with Tom's med purchases.  Daphne pleads for more money, only to be coldly turned away, so she takes matters in her own hands by kidnapping Tom's also mentally unstable sister (Huckaby, Death Tunnel) to hold her for ransom.  The second story features Angus Macfadyen (Equilibrium, Shooting Gallery) as a neurotic professor whose wife has just left him for another woman, out on the road with a student (Chabert, Mean Girls) with a crush on him.  Lastly, there is Marcy (Bennett, In Her Line of Fire), the cold-blooded lesbian assassin hired to put an end to Daphne's kidnapping plot.

Director Sekula tries to hard to mold this rather depressing, serious story into a quirky, tongue-in-cheek thriller, and the result is disastrous.  The first thing you'll notice about the film is the awkward way in which many scenes are filmed, employing many angles looking directly up or down at the characters or framing them in claustrophobic close-ups, seemingly for no other reason but to make the film appear stylish.  You'd expect a better visual treatment from Sekula, as he has spent nearly the last 15 years as a cinematographer, but the results here are ugly and unsatisfying visually.

Moving on to the cast, there is an effort to bring together a lively and eclectic cast of actors, and while there are plenty of names you can recognize, most of the bigger names are well past their prime in terms of box office appeal.  Lauren Holly gets most of the screen time of this ensemble cast, with a pissed-off performance that seems just a little above her ability to nail down.  Macfadyen fares little better in a mostly comedic role as the college professor with an overabundance of hang-ups, none of which are remotely interesting or funny, although Angus does give him enough personality to make him almost interesting.  Jill Bennett as the hitwoman for hire is wasted in an underwritten role that is supposed to be darkly funny, but which never feels right for this kind of movie.  Smaller roles exist for Billy Zane and Meat Loaf, but neither are worth going out of your way for, even for fans. Perhaps to pad the semi-star power of the credits, Jason Mewes (RSVP, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and Rachel Dratch are given cameo roles as gas station attendants.  Despite the very small and superfluous roles they have, I would rather have watched them bicker for 90 minutes than have to endure any of the three distasteful converging storylines showcased throughout the rest of the film.

The Pleasure Drivers is a film that never seems to find the right footing to keep us interested in the wild ride that follows.  As executed here, it always looks like it is on the verge of going somewhere more interesting than it ever goes, saying something pithier than it ever says, and having their characters doing things more relevant to an overall theme than they ever manage to do.  As this overcooked jumble draws to a deadly conclusion, we can care little about who lives or dies, who is redeemed or who is lost forever. 

Now that I think about it more, I have changed my mind regarding tampering with the film's title.  If a "pleasure drive" involves just getting in your car and driving with no particular destination in mind, I can't think of a more appropriate name to call this aimless, meaningless excursion.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo