Don’t let the grade atop this review fool you: Sex Drive is a pretty terrible movie. I just couldn’t bring myself to actually dislike it with any fervor. A thoroughly clichéd virginity-deadline teen comedy with none of American Pie‘s trangsressiveness (it’s hard, these days) and little of Superbad‘s intelligence, it nonetheless manages enough moments of inspiration to be passable, and has some performances with enough charm to make it likable — or at least not detestable. It offers very little to smart and/or experienced filmgoers, but in its genre, it deserves some small measure of due.
The plot is like a half-filled-in template. Eighteen-year old Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is desperate to lose his virginity — so, egged on by his far more experienced buddy Lance (Clark Duke), he takes off on a 9-hour road trip to hook up with a girl he met on the internet, and who thinks that he’s a football star rather than a scrawny dork. Along for the ride is Ian’s cute platonic best friend Felicia (Amanda Crew).
I compared Sex Drive to American Pie and Superbad, which is reasonably accurate if you’re looking at the story. Stylistically, its closest cousins are the Harold & Kumar films. Sex Drive‘s m.o. is to throw its characters into random, self-consciously contrived predicaments: a drag race, an abstinence rally, Larry Craig-type characters in roadside restrooms, Amish car mechanics, and a rumspringe bash. The characters’ adventures fit their respective profiles: Lance fucks his way through the central US, Ian falls ass-backwards into awkward situations, and Felicia mulls her friendship with Ian.
You get the idea: and by that I mean you can now describe every plot development in the film’s second and third acts. The only surprise comes at the end, when Sex Drive squanders a lovely, graceful final note for a denoument that’s blunt and obvious, and even that’s not very surprising. For the most part, this is dishearteningly low-level stuff.
But believe it or not, some flashes of wit — even inspiration — sneak through under the radar, almost as a counterpoint to the film’s structural and narrative triteness. The segments involving Seth Green as an Amishman whose greatest rumspringe discoveries were auto repair and sarcasm are actually kind of brilliant, though it really amounts to one joke. Clark Duke gets off a number of good lines, including a remark that he’s not about to lose a drag race to “a car that looks like a trapper keeper,” even if it’s being driven by “Steve McQueen’s zombie corpse.” James Marsden is very funny as Ian’s homophobic brother (though you know where that leads), and his repeated motorcycle entrances are a decent running joke.
Josh Zuckerman, who reminded me of a young Jerry Seinfeld (it’s the voice, as well as the Jewishness), is an affable star, and Duke is a pretty good foil. (Duke is a longtime Michael Cera friend and collaborator; you can see how they’d work well together.) Amanda Crew is a bit lifeless as the best-friend-slash-love-interest, but the character doesn’t have much to do anyhow. No one is particularly annoying, which is vital to making a film like this watchable.
“Watchable” is ultimately the word. There’s little reason to see it, and it won’t do well — the public sneak preview I attended, in a busy theater in downtown San Francisco, boasted an audience of maybe 15 people. But if you’re dragged along, or you somehow wake up in a theater showing it, not knowing how you got there or what your name is, you won’t suffer. You might even smile.