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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Drive Me Crazy (1999)
2 Stars

Directed by John Schultz
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Grenier, Mark Webber, Keri Lynn Pratt, Ali Larter, Susan May Pratt, Gabriel Carpenter, Kris Park, Stephen Collins, Faye Grant, Mark Metcalf, William Converse-Roberts.
1999 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual innuendo).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 3, 1999.

If 1999 should go down in movie history for anything, it shouldn't be for the eagerly-awaited release of "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" because, let's face it, people didn't seem to care about the film after they had seen how mediocre it really was. And although one of the year's few true masterpieces, it shouldn't be for Stanley Kubrick final motion picture, "Eyes Wide Shut," because it was overhyped and generally disappointed the average moviegoer expecting a sex-filled romp instead of the slow, contemplative "art" film it really was. No, what 1999 should be known for is the full-blown explosion of that timeless genre known as the "teen" movie. As is the case, not all were very good (the vapid "She's All That," the empty "Varsity Blues"), but some turned out to be the best since John Hughes, circa the mid-1980's ("The Breakfast Club," "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink"), such as the brilliant satire, "Election," the smart "10 Things I Hate About You," the instant teen classic, "American Pie," and the slick "Cruel Intentions." All were released this past Spring or Summer, so John Schultz's "Drive Me Crazy," a sort of "She's All That" reversal, at least holds the distinction of being the sole "teen" movie of the Fall.

Based on the book, "How I Created My Perfect Prom Date," by Todd Strasser, the film version is in limbo between the successful "teen" movies, and the not-so-successful. On its side is an occasionally adept screenplay and two likable characters that are more appealing than the story they have been stranded in. On the other side of the spectrum, "Drive Me Crazy" faithfully follows the same stringent formula that most of these movies have, and it is instantly forgettable due to its own stubborn banality, and the inability to have many distinguishable qualities among the large crop of similar films.

The premise goes like this: Nicole Maris (Melissa Joan Hart), one of the most popular seniors at Timothy Zonin High School, is in the middle of preparing the big Centennial Dance, the 100-year anniversary of the school. She has her close eye on the star of the basketball team, Brad (Gabriel Carpenter), but when he falls for someone else, Nicole finds herself dateless for the dance. That's where her next-door neighbor and fellow classmate, Chase Hammond (Adrian Grenier), comes into the picture. A rebellious slacker type, Chase and Nicole used to be best friends until they hit middle school and drifted apart into their differing cliques, but now Nicole wants his help, and since his own girlfriend, Dulcie (Ali Larter), has just dumped him, he accepts. Buying him a whole new, stylish wardrobe, Chase starts to hang out with Nicole at school functions and her group of friends, and to his own surprise, he begins to enjoy it, including the company of Nicole. In the process, however, Chase seems to little-by-little forget about his old group of buddies, who are left waiting in the wings. Complications ensue, some truths will be spoken, the Centennial Dance arrives at the climax, and no awards will be given out to those who can guess how everything is sure to turn out.

If Chase had been paid by Nicole, "Drive Me Crazy" would almost be a carbon copy of 1987's "Can't Buy Me Love," a more-sappy, but also more satisfying, "teen" picture. Without that added gimmick, however, the storyline is easier to swallow and graciously spares us a lot of melodramatic speeches that plagued "Can't Buy Me Love."

In her very first starring role in a feature film, Melissa Joan Hart (TV's "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch") is one of the most engaging and fresh young actresses to appear in any of this year's "teen" movies, second to only the wonderful Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You." Beautiful in a non-Hollywood type of way, Hart is refreshingly not pencil-thin, has lots of freckles on her face, and her more normal physical appearance only helps the film so that you can easily identify with her, much like Jason Biggs did for "American Pie." Not only that, but Hart really is a fine actress that definitely has an acting future ahead of her, as she never mugs for the camera or uses exaggerated body language to express her emotions.

Adrian Grenier, last seen in the independent "coming-of-age" film, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," is well-cast to play off of Hart, and together they have a certain amount of winning chemistry. Better yet, in his scenes in which he is apart from Hart, Grenier is natural and instinctive, so good he very rarely ever appears to be acting much at all.

If there is one aspect of "Drive Me Crazy" that screenwriter Rob Thomas gets exactly right, it is in his view of teenagers, and the relationships between the different cliques in school. The popular group are pleasingly not looked upon as easy stereotypes, and are seldom portrayed as the one-dimensional bad guys that so many films of this ilk fall victim to (paging "She's All That").

For the most part, a few of the supporting performances should be pin-pointed for the way they are able to create added levels to their characters, particularly Mark Webber, as one of Chase's friends who is carrying on a relationship via the internet with a mystery person from the school, and Keri Lynn Pratt, as Dee-Vine, a fellow classmate who got her nickname before she lost 40 lbs. Pratt, especially, is one of the most charming performers I've come across in many-a-moons, and her character is both instantly appealing and even poignant in one of the best scenes in the film, in which she is verbally assaulted and put down because of her past weight problem.

The film is also often visually impressive, signalling unusually high production values for a clearly low-budget effort. A quiet, effective sequence between Nicole and her estranged father (Stephen Collins) is absolutely stunning, as it takes place on a hot-air ballon, high above the gorgeous green landscape. Several of the song choices, on the other hand, are far too teenybopperish, including Britney Spears' tune that the film was even named after. If anything, Spears' relation to the picture should aid the picture financially. Tellingly, my friend and I, both in our first year of college, instantly felt like elder statesmen once we set foot in the theater, overrun with middle school girls who giddily sang along to Spears and The Backstreet Boys, one of which went as far as to use hand motions as she belted out the songs!

"Drive Me Crazy" is enjoyable on a minor level, and nothing more. It is fun to watch simply for Hart and Grenier, but its one fatal flaw is its own needlessly generic nature. Aside from a couple scenes in which the film deals with domestic issues within families, and the way kids sometimes drift apart the older they get, the film is little more than adequate, not a total washout, but nothing that hasn't been recycled a thousand times before, and done more ambitiously.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman