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License to Drive
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"The Two Coreys Score"
4 stars

While its box-office take was almost three times its budget, it still deserved to be more widely seen.

At the beginning of the hilarious teen comedy License to Drive, we see a ramshackle school bus moving along the suburban streets like something right out of Hell -- the windows are ultra-grimy with layers of black smudge, the high-school students being transported are shackled by ankle to their seats, and the sinister-looking driver reminds one of the evilly-smiling chauffer from the horror classic Burnt Offerings. But there’s one kid among the defeated who, seeing a blonde goddess riding alongside the bus in a shiny red convertible, frees himself and dives headfirst out the emergency-door window, sprightly lands on his feet and is then chased by the bus; he makes it to the convertible, jumps into the driver’s seat, strikes a match on the dashboard to light the cigarette of the beauty, and tosses it out the car where it lands in a pool of flammable liquid the bus runs into, causing a mass explosion that…wakes up the kid who’s dreamed all this up…one Les Anderson (played by Corey Haim), who’s been sleeping through his last session in his driver’s-education class; and this isn’t the first time Les has dozed off during a class he’s deemed unnecessary -- like many of his type, he thinks he knows it all and needn’t concern himself with such boring incidentals as traffic laws. As his best friend Dean (Corey Feldman) has convinced him, “It’s not like you just moved here from Bedrock or something; you’ve been a passenger in a car all your life,” though it would be beneficial if Les were studying for his upcoming driver’s examination with the diligence of his nerdy twin sister Natalie (Nina Siemaszko), who has a Middle Eastern communist-leaning boyfriend who thinks cars are just another way of a capitalist government forcing its materialistic ways onto its populace, for he winds up flunking his written exam as Natalie nets a perfect score -- an outraged Les slams the computer monitor so hard (as if he got a bad score on the arcade game Donkey Kong) that it causes a mass malfunction so the Motor Vehicle Bureau can’t retrieve his test score, yet since his sister aced her test the cigarette-throaty administrator assumes her own brother must have passed his test, too, so he’s allowed to take his on-road test, only his instructor is a foul-tempered martinet who doesn’t bother using a clipboard: he throws the thing right out the window and tells Les to look long and hard at his cup of hot coffee filled to the brim; as long as Les doesn’t cause the cup on the dashboard to “burn” the instructor, the instructor won’t “burn” him. Les succeeds, but right after being handed his license, the administrator calls him back and informs him his failed test score was able to be retrieved, and she tears the thing right in half right in front of his aghast self. Ashamed to admit to which to his parents (Richard Masur and Carol Kane), he lies that he passed, but the mother finds the failed notice inside his pants while doing the laundry, he’s grounded for two weeks, yet when the luscious Mercedes Lane (Heather Graham) calls him up that night reminding him that they have their first date, he sneaks out with his grandfather’s beloved 1972 Cadillac, and what ensues is a single night of enough misadventures so as the make an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles pale by comparison.

Unlike the unctuous brand of two-dimensional figures you find in a John Hughes production, the ones here are naturalistic and never fall into an easy-to-label stereotype. Les is simply (though not simplistically) your average, everyday high-schooler whose hormones get the better of him and make him willing to take risks with little regard for the consequences. His date with Mercedes goes awry almost from the get-go: she gets sloppy drunk upon learning her recent ex-boyfriend has already taken up with a floozy, and even after Les bribes a tow-truck driver not to tow away the Cadillac from a No Parking zone, Mercedes manages to do an inebriated dance on the hood and causes it to cave in. No problem since Dean is able to knock everything back into place in his garage, but another problem presents itself when Dean convinces Les to drive the two of them and their other friend to the hottest teen spot in town, the drive-in fast-food eatery Archie’s, which promises to be the highlight of the night only to result in another unintended consequence that puts both Les and the Caddy (with the license plate GRANDPA) in even more jeopardy. Haim is in every single scene, and those who saw his fine performances in Murphy’s Romance and Lucas know he can be an ingratiating screen presence, and he and Feldman, who had genuine chemistry in The Lost Boys, make an indelible comic duo. (You can tell Les and Dean have been lifelong friends, and are also aware that the manipulative Dean can talk Les into risky situations as deftly as he could talk a leopard out of its spots.) It’s also a good thing screenwriter Neil Tolkin and director Greg Beeman are on hand. They’re making their feature-film debuts, with Beeman concocting some outrageously funny situations and penning colorful dialogue that never feels forced, along with giving that stalwart of an actor Masur a surprisingly rich part that most movies of this genre would normally write off as a disposable fuddy-duddy -- any teenager would be proud to have him as a dad; and Masur, having been cast as villains, provides an exceedingly warm portrait that gives License to Drive a crucial extra dimension. No slouch, either, is Beeman, who keeps the proceedings phenomenally well-controlled from first shot to last. Having the good sense to employ one of the best cinematographers in the businesses, Bruce Surtees, who was Clint Eastwood’s former cameraman, Beeman succeeds in giving every scene a real pop! that propels the action forward with a luxurious visual schema perfectly accentuating it. The movie wasn’t shot by a dullard, and Beeman gets an amazing amount of compositional variety even in talking-heads scenes most directors would’ve glossed over; and when it comes to choreographing action and providing a genuine payoff, he’s right up there with a Jonathan Demme in getting the maximum out of a scene without hammering it home. Oh, there are a couple of quibbles. At one point Les directly addresses the camera à la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and it inanely sticks out. And perhaps the inclusion of Natalie’s brief exploit at a left-wing protest gathering that coincidentally intersects with Les’s adventure isn’t as fluidly segued into as it could be. But License to Drive is all of a piece -- it’s enjoyably boisterous stuff that ranks as something of a minor classic.

The reliable Anchor Bay Entertainment has given this goodie a fine transfer along with some good special features, especially an informative audio commentary.

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originally posted: 05/19/15 22:43:54
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell crap one corey is bad enough but 2 OMG 1 stars
5/20/15 Charles Tatum Obnoxious, with a "funny" drunk driving scene that will leave you speechless 1 stars
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  06-Jul-1988 (PG-13)

  N/A (12)

  15-Sep-1988 (M)

Directed by
  Greg Beeman

Written by
  Neil Tolkin

  Corey Haim
  Corey Feldman
  Heather Graham
  Richard Masur
  Carol Kane

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