It’s delusional to consider this an action film. There’s lots of grotesque violence, but most of the time an artsy, self-conscious, existentialist stillness reigns – or, more accurately, tedium – although Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn was lauded at Cannes for his hyper-stylish, neo-noir direction.
Set in Los Angeles, the plot pivots on a nameless, monosyllabic, emotionless wheelman (Ryan Gosling) who, ostensibly, works as a movie stunt driver but is often hired by mobsters for their getaway cars. He’s so adept that his garage mechanic boss, Shannon (“Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston), wants to bankroll him to race stock cars. But when he helps out a sweet-faced neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), at a nearby Big 6 supermarket, he becomes involved with her, her wide-eyed young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), and her ex-con husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac).
There’s a pawn-shop heist that goes wrong, which infuriates gangsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), his partner (Ron Perlman) and a bimbo accomplice (Christina Hendricks of TV’s “Mad Men”).
Hossein Amini’s minimalist adaptation of James Sallis’ novel barely delineates the cars-and-crime storyline, not to mention individual characters and their psychological motivations. Plus, there are so many editing inconsistencies that it’s easy to become distracted. Like- what happened to the driver’s own bag of groceries when he carried in his neighbor’s two? And why is there an elegant, wood-paneled elevator in a garage? Augmenting the pervasive sense of unease is Johnny Jewel’s discordant synth pop.
Despite the quirky drawbacks, Ryan Gosling scores as the moody, monosyllabic loner, evoking Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and/or Lee Marvin. Born in Canada, Gosling was one of Disney’s Mouseketeers. After achieving big-screen fame in “The Notebook,” he romanced a sex doll in “Lars and the Real Girl” and Anne Hathaway in “Crazy, Stupid Love” and his dramatic roles include “Half Nelson” and “Blue Valentine.”
Comedian Albert Brooks adroitly shifts to show his mean side, but Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) is woefully miscast as the hard-luck mom.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Drive” idles in with a 4 – and then stalls out.