Drive Me Crazy

Friday October 1, 1999

     Regard with suspicion any movie named after a song. It suggests there's not much to latch on to about the film in question, so its handlers have tried to co-opt the persona of a popular tune. "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Something to Talk About" both leap to mind.
     In the case of "Drive Me Crazy," anyone eligible to vote might not get the reference to the Britney Spears song--and that's likely intentional. The movie, which stars Melissa Joan Hart of TV's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," will fall beneath grown-up radar--and that's no great loss. Like the song, the movie is bouncy and catchy but disposable pop material.
     Hart stars as Nicole Maris, a campus booster nonpareil. In with the popular crowd but still remarkably wholesome, Nicole is organizing a sort of massive homecoming dance to celebrate the centennial of Timothy Zonin High School a.k.a. Time Zone High. Her next-door neighbor, Chase Hammond (Adrian Grenier), is the kind of guy who pulls pranks on people like her and views high school as nothing worth celebrating.
     Nicole gets jilted by her dream date and Chase gets dumped by his tres political girlfriend. Guess what Nicole and Chase do? Go ahead. Guess. OK, OK . . . they pretend they're dating to make the other people jealous. And guess what happens? Go ahead. Guess.
     But there's no point in being mean-spirited about a film like this. Slickly directed (though full of TV-style close-ups) and tightly cut, it is perfectly entertaining for 91 minutes. Like "She's All That," "Can't Hardly Wait" and others before it, "Drive Me Crazy" projects from the very beginning that nothing bad is going to happen in this movie. "Relax," it says, "it's all good here."
     Adapted by TV writer Rob Thomas from the book "How I Created My Perfect Prom Date" by Todd Strasser, "Drive Me Crazy" is set in Utah, where somehow it is basketball season but also swim-in-the-river weather. Other aspects of Time Zone High, however, feel as real as home video, such as the drill squad and the morning student news show.
     Whatever charisma Hart has on TV, the big screen dilutes it tenfold. Director John Schultz, formerly a documentarian, does her no favors by relying on the close-up. It's not that she's unattractive--it's more that she's unexpressive. Grenier, whose floppy curls and loping stride suggest high school, even if his 5 o'clock shadow does not, has far more charisma.
     Not surprisingly, the movie is hyper-aware of its own soundtrack, even beyond the cut from Spears' absurdly platinum-selling " . . . Baby One More Time" album. Don Philip, Steps and the Backstreet Boys--all notably on Jive Records--make musical appearances. Music supervisors Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval appear to hijack the movie for a short music video to the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."
     "Drive Me Crazy" earns social points for giving the unpopular characters far more personality than most of the in-crowd. Mark Webber is Designated Dave, who volunteers to drive kids home from parties--kids who don't even know his last name. Kris Park plays Ray, a budding filmmaker who videotapes everything around him.
     The cool kids--with one or two exceptions--aren't cruel. The film wants to side with the underdog geeks, but can't then criticize their desires to be popular. If the movie wants to have it both ways, that's easy to forgive. Remember, it's all good here.
     If teens somehow get excited about "Drive Me Crazy," no harm done. But unlike, say, "Sixteen Candles," this won't be a picture today's teens and preteens look back to later, with even campy nostalgia. It'll drop from memory as quickly as Britney Spears drops from the pop charts. That's got to happen soon, right?

Drive Me Crazy, 1999. PG-13 for teen alcohol and drug use, and for language. Released by 20th Century Fox. Director John Schultz. Producer Amy Robinson. Screenplay by Rob Thomas, based on the book "How I Created My Perfect Prom Date" by Todd Strasser. Director of photography Kees Van Oostrum. Production designer Aaron Osborne. Editor John Pace. Co-producer Nancy Paloian-Breznikar. Music by Greg Kendall. Music supervisors Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Melissa Joan Hart as Nicole Maris. Adrian Grenier as Chase Hammond. Mark Webber as Dave. Kris Park as Ray. Susan May Pratt as Alicia. Ali Larter as Dulcie. Keri Lynn Pratt as Dee Vine. Gabriel Carpenter as Brad.

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