Saturday 10 June 2017

Movie Review: License To Drive (1988)

A teen adventure comedy, License To Drive is much better than it needs to be thanks to a sympathetic Corey Haim performance and a sharp script.

16 year old high school student Les (Haim) can't wait to get his driver's license in order to impress his alluring classmate Mercedes (Heather Graham). Les' Dad (Richard Masur) and pregnant Mom (Carol Kane) fully expect him to pass his driving test at the first attempt, as do his friends Dean (Corey Feldman) and Charles (Michael Manasseri). Despite acing the driving portion of the exam, Les flunks the computer test.

Unable to deal with the humiliation of failure, Les conveniently forgets to tell his friends that he still does not have a license. Instead he smuggles his grandfather's blue Cadillac out of the garage when his parents are sleeping, and embarks on a date with Mercedes, which extends to a joyride session with Dean and Charles. Mercedes is soon consuming too much alcohol, while Dean eggs Les on towards more adventures with unexpected consequences.

A star-making vehicle for Haim, who really was 16 years old, License To Drive captures the young actor at his peak and helped to propel "the two Coreys" to the height of teenage stardom. It would all end in drug-drenched tragedy for Haim, but here his instinctive talent and easy screen charisma are fully on display, and undeniable. He lifts what would otherwise be a routine teen flick to an enjoyable romp through a combination of mischievous innocence and adorable winks at the audience.

Director Greg Beeman wisely recognizes the talent at his disposal and makes the film all about Les. The would-be romance with Mercedes, the spiky friendships with Dean and Charles, the awkward relationship with slightly goofy parents and the relentless pursuit of a driver's license all start and end with Les in the middle of his own world.

In what is essentially a slightly less dangerous version of Risky Business, all of Les' adventures are also patchy, underdeveloped and sometimes icky, including resolutions where Mercedes ends us passed out drunk, stuffed in the trunk of a car and then exploited by Dean as he takes revealing pictures. In 1988 these events were still considered somehow funny for a teen-oriented comedy film.

Helping the film rise above forgettable is a stronger than usual supporting cast bringing the secondary cast to life. This was Graham's first credited screen role and she shines as the unattainable high school crush who is suddenly available. Richard Masur and Carol Kane ensure that Les' parents are more quirky than usual, while Feldman and Manasseri are believable as the friends who make sure trouble is around every antic.

License To Drive exploits the unspoken joke that licensed or not, Les is a naturally talented ace driver behind the wheel of that Cadillac. The film finds the fun it seeks riding along with its young star, but in retrospect is tinged with the sadness of a talent lost too soon.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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