Dir Sean Anders. US. 2008. 108 mins
A raunchy title and some gross-out gags have earned Sex Drive an R rating in the US, but deep down this teen comedy from Summit Entertainment is a sweet-natured and likeable coming-of-age tale that recalls the feel of the American Pie movies. Though an American Pie-size gross is not on the cards, Summit and its indie distributor partners outside the US could, with the right timing and marketing, do solid theatrical and strong video business.
The R rating will probably be an asset when Summit opens the film wide in North America this coming weekend although Sex Drive's lack of star power will be something of a liability. Competition from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist as well as the upcoming Saw V and Zach and Miri Make A Porno could limit the film's domestic box office potential.
Raunchy comedies have not recently been too reliable outside the US, but Summit's experience with the genre - the company handled international sales on the first American Pie film, which, like the third, did considerably better internationally than domestically - should help independent buyers maximise their returns.
Writer-director Sean Anders and writer-producer John Morris (creators of micro-budget comedy Never Been Thawed) got the basis for their script from Andy Behrens' less raunchily-titled 2006 young adult novel All The Way. In a somewhat familiar premise, it is centred around 18-year-old nice guy Ian (Zuckerman) and his quest to lose his virginity before his last pre-college summer is over.
Lured to a rendezvous 500 miles away by a hot girl he 'meets' on the Internet, Ian pinches his older brother's beloved car and sets off with lothario pal Lance (Duke) and best friend/romantic interest Felicia (Crew). The fresh twist is that the story unfolds as a road trip, with some unusual interludes including a surreal stopover on an Amish farm.
The film takes a while to warm up and spends much of its first half on broad comedy that produces some chuckles but no really big laughs. It's fairly mild stuff, with a few bare boobs, a couple of veiled erections, a semen gag and a heavily edited sex scene.
The road trip gives rise to scenes of efficiently staged slapstick and a bit of car chase action. And although it gets some laughs out of an abstinence-promoting stage show that the friends encounter on their drive through the American heartland, the film ultimately sends the message that sex is better when it's accompanied by love.
And it gets more involving when the raunchy comedy gives way to character drama centred on the love triangle between Ian, Felicia and Lance.
The three young leads all show considerable promise. Zuckerman gives Ian an endearing vulnerability, Crew is entirely believable as the standoffish Felicia and Duke is fun as unlikely chick magnet Lance.
Among the supporting players, James Marsden goes to town as Ian's ridiculously cocksure older brother and Seth Green is terrifically deadpan as a sarcastic Amish car mechanic who helps the friends out.
A cameo appearance by hot rock band Fall Out Boy should create an extra bit of teen buzz for the film.
US distribution/int'l sales
Sean Anders & John Morris
based on the book All The Way by Andy Behrens