Judge Brett Cullum gets out of your dreams, and into your car. (Please don't call the police—we'll come get him. This happens all the time.)
Dean: Les, that license in your wallet…that's not an ordinary piece of paper. That is a driver's license, and it's not only a driver's license, it's an automobile license, and it's not only an automobile license, it's a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.
Two "Coreys" for the price of one makes License To Drive an easy DVD to drive off the lot at its suggested sticker price of $19.98. Doesn't hurt that Anchor Bay has fully loaded this ride with some pretty non-standard features that make it even more of a deal. No haggling needed to slip into this little teen comedy from 1988. So take the parking brake off, and let's take a look at the mileage.
Facts of the Case
Anybody remember counting down to your sixteenth birthday, so you could hop behind the wheel of your parents' "big boat" of a car and take your friends to a hamburger joint or pizza place? For any of us who grew up in suburbia it was one of those defining moments when we knew we were finally on the road to being an adult. Big city kids could always ride public transportation and end up anywhere. But those of us outside of places with subways and reliable bus lines were stuck—unless our parents dropped us off. The keys to the car meant that we were finally free to go where we wanted, when we wanted. Well…at least as long as we got back by curfew.
License To Drive is a coming-of-age comedy that tells the story of sixteen year-old Les Anderson (Canadian-born Corey Haim, a.k.a. "Space Dog," Lucas). He is so excited about getting his driver's license, but he fails the written part of the test the first time around. Unfortunately, he already has a date scheduled with the hottest girl in school, Mercedes Lane (Heather Graham, Boogie Nights). He decides to risk it, and sneaks out in his grandfather's classic Cadillac to take his dream girl out. An innocent girl, a harmless drive…what could go wrong? Everything, of course.
Mercedes confronts her ex-boyfriend at the club she asks Les to take her to, and then gets very drunk. She dances on the hood of the car, dents it, and promptly passes out. Les has to call his best buddy Dean (Corey Feldman, a.k.a. "Core," Stand By Me) to help him out. With their geeky friend Charles (Michael Manasseri, TV's Weird Science) in tow, the boys get into tons of trouble. Along the way they learn that drunk drivers are dangerous, drag racing gearheads is not a good idea, and you should never put a Mercedes into the trunk of a Cadillac.
The "Coreys" were an unstoppable duo for about three years after they appeared together in Joel Schumacher's teen vampire flick Lost Boys. They were both plastered on countless Tiger Beat and Seventeen covers, a teen dream pairing that rivaled the heyday of Frankie and Annette or Molly and Andrew. Two Coreys meant box office gold no matter how bad the movie was. Alas, it was to be a brief shining era. Like so many child stars before them, the two Coreys eventually fell into the gaping maw of fame that destroys so much young Hollywood talent. They began taking drugs, and hanging out with Michael Jackson (Feldman was even given to impersonating the singer's signature looks and dance moves). Soon the two Coreys were the subject of tabloid rumors, and found themselves heading to Betty Ford's drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility instead of box office gold. Teenagers across America prayed they would one day return to glory in another installment of the Dream a Little Dream franchise, but it was never to be. Pop culture moved on, and the two Coreys were forgotten, doomed to a life of occasional Hollywood Squares gigs or stints on The Surreal Life. Life was not kind to the boy wonders in the decade after their stardom. Haim had to declare bankruptcy in 1997; Feldman was arrested for drugs in the early '90s. Hollywood is cruel, and the world is never fair. But thanks to the miracle of DVD, we can return to and relive a simpler time when all our idols were named Corey.
The good news is that License To Drive isn't that bad a movie, even twenty years later. It will never be held up as the equal of a John Hughes flick, but it certainly holds its own as a spry, nimble, fluffy comedy that goes down easy. The movie is cute. It's something everyone can relate to. It clocks in at a brisk ninety minutes, and is still an entertaining lark worth a look even if only for the sake of nostalgia. It probably would have been completely forgotten, and I'd instead be watching a special edition of the far superior Better Off Dead, if it weren't for the cast and an ambitious director. I have to admit the chemistry of the Coreys is in full swing here. Feldman and Haim may have been halfway tanked for most of the shooting (if you believe Feldman's comments), but they seem to make a good comedy team. Not only do we get Haim and Feldman at the height of their acting prowess, but we get an early glimpse of all-time hottie Heather Graham, screwball comedienne Carol Kane (Scrooged), and reliable character actor Richard Masur (Risky Business). Nina Siemaszko (Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue and The West Wing) also makes an appearance, as well as Eight Is Enough heartthrob Grant Goodeve. Director Greg Beeman, who came from television's Wonder Years, was helming his first big-screen picture. He certainly had a handle on teens—and still does, given his frequent work on Smallville. He gives the film a sleek, stylish gloss, which helps the film, seeing how it begs for some atmosphere beyond the usual vibrancy of a comedy. I like that the cast is age-appropriate. Almost all the teens are really fifteen to eighteen years old, bucking that insane tradition of getting people about to hit thirty to play adolescents.
Anchor Bay does a great job with the film, and gives it an almost Criterion-level treatment. The transfer is a respectable anamorphic widescreen affair with only a slight hint of softness and occasional grain. Amazingly, the black levels are dead on. That's crucial, considering more than half the movie takes place at night in Los Angeles. I noticed brief interludes of edge enhancement, but nothing too bothersome. Flesh tones are well-rendered, and the colors pop when they need to. They gave the soundtrack a full-on 5.1 treatment, which pumps up the '80s tunes. ("Get Out of My Dreams (And Into My Car)" and "Mercedes Boy" both roll out of your speakers nicely.) The surround fields are quite natural, but there is also a 2.0 track if that's a better fit for your home system.
The special features are outstanding as well. There are separate interviews with both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. You get a deleted sequence that runs a full fifteen minutes, and offers a completely different climax to boot. The audio commentary with director Greg Beeman and writer Neil Tolkin is fast and funny, full of anecdotes about the production. There are trailers from both television and cinema; oddly enough, they are mainly comprised of scenes that never made it to final cut. With the trailers and the deleted sequence you get the sense that there were a lot of reshoots and various edits made to the film right up to the last minute. For a look at what hit the floor there is a DVD-ROM feature that includes the full screenplay. Also included is a booklet that offers even more insight into the film, including fun trivia (e.g. Ben Affleck (Armageddon) originally read for the Les Anderson role). It also offers the factoid that the film was originally titled To Live and Drive in L.A., which could have been a genius opportunity for a new Wang Chung song. Great package for a teen flick—actually, impressive for any movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
License to Drive is hardly a classic. It's full of more '80s trends and fads than you can shake a stick at: pink Izods with the collar up, skinny ties, ankle boots, neon colors, and Corey Haim with Corey Feldman. If you're allergic to the decade, it's enough to drive you over the edge. It's impossibly dated—there's never a moment when the film isn't screaming "I love the '80s!." The plot is hardly complex, and the comedy isn't zany enough to make it stand out. This is your standard teen flick from the era; thankfully, the genre seems to have died. If you're not a fan of the '80s teen movie then you should stay far, far away from this disc. It's purely nostalgia, and functions on almost no other level. I imagine a screening with teenagers today would result in some disheartened shrugs and skeptical looks.
With older eyes, I realized the reshoots probably hindered the film to a degree. The first half is a pretty good approximation of suburban teenagers. The driving test sequence is still very funny and painful all at once. (I remember being very nervous while being tested.) The movie shines early on when it deals in reality. But the last half becomes routine Hollywood developments we've seen a million times. Car chases and thugs? Seen it. Even in the '80s this was standard fare. License to Drive was all about formula. Movies like Sixteen Candles or Heathers, that broke molds and earned their classic status, easily surpass it. License to Drive is disposable fluff that hardly makes any sort of statement.
Anchor Bay seems to be the master of the completely awkward misplaced layer change. In License to Drive it comes at the one hour and thirteen minute mark, right in the middle of a musical sequence. It's not hard to mask these changes in a silent moment or during a blackout, but Anchor Bay always seems to throw it in there at an inopportune moment. I noticed it, and you will too. And no subtitles? You have the whole script on a DVD-ROM feature, and yet there is no option for them.
My embarrassing admission for the week: as a teenager I was pretty much exactly like Corey Haim without the fame, and I usually did manage to close my mouth when breathing. I weighed 125 pounds, had big wavy hair, and made many unfortunate fashion choices. I probably have a soft spot for License to Drive because it brings back my memories of getting my first license in the late '80s. This movie is one that is curiously a lot of fun for me personally, and all you Gen X-ers will probably chime in and agree with me. Everyone else is going to find it horribly dated, and only entertaining because it moves at a nice clip. If you never fell into the "Cult of the Coreys" you won't get it. Kudos to Anchor Bay for delivering it with all the trimmings that DVD fans clamor for, and also for putting a nice transfer and audio treatment together. For those who are glued to VH-1's I Love the '80s—this one's for you.
Guilty of being an inconsequential cute little '80s teen flick. License to Drive is free to go and entertain those of us who remember when Haim and Feldman were charming, innocent fun. And thank you for introducing the world to the miracle that is Heather Graham. Remember, the Department of Motor Vehicles can "make your life a living hell," so we'll ignore any moving violations.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Interview with Corey Haim
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