October 20, 2008

The Sex Was Bad, the Film Was Worse

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If you feel like you haven’t spent enough quality time with the guys lately, Sex Drive will feel like a much-needed binge. The film, directed by Sean Anders, combines two archetypal genres: Apatow-style awkward-loser-with-a-mission movies and road trip movies. The story follows 18-year-old Ian (Josh Zuckerman) and his two best friends, Lance (Clark Duke, familiar to many as the nerdy Christian roommate in Greek) and Felicia (Amanda Crew), from the suburbs of Chicago to Knoxville on a cross-country quest to help Ian lose his virginity to a girl he meets online, Miss Tasty. This premise could potentially yield endless brilliance and merriment, at once a Kerouac-esque celebration of Americana and a clever, sarcastic coming-of-age tale a la Superbad and American Pie. But too many sperm jokes make “endless” the only true part of the sentence. Whether you find this movie interesting or not depends on how much you enjoy watching self-centered suburban white teenagers make the kind of jokes you could hear without ever leaving your dorm.
In its steadfast devotion to chronicling the minute ups and downs of Ian’s road to adulthood, the film practically becomes a celebration of teenage awkwardness. Sometimes you feel compelled to laugh, but this laughter is most often accompanied by a cringe. Ian’s homophobic brother Rex (James Marsden) advises Ian at one point that “every guy has a fantasy about another guy but you gotta bury that shit way down … this is America.” While funny, this is also one of the few insights the film provides into male psychology. Apparently guys call each other gay as a form of defense against their repressed impulses. If this is really the case, then the writers of Sex Drive must have a lot of repressed impulses, because the dialogue mainly consists of penis jokes and homophobic innuendo.
Like Ian’s skills in bed, the acting leaves something to be desired. While Zuckerman, Duke and Crew obediently reel off their lines, their characters, Crew’s in particular, feel like underdeveloped stereotypes instead of fully-fledged people. Felicia’s Goth wardrobe and hatred of her perky blonde family signal that she is meant to be unconventional, but her sarcasm often comes across as brattiness. She acts like the stereotypical girl, clinging dreamily to Lance and rejecting Ian’s clumsy advances because she “doesn’t want to ruin” their friendship. And while Ian at least states his lines with conviction, making his character believable, Felicia often sounds insincere, as if even she doesn’t understand how she is meant to act.
Don’t expect things to pick up once the characters get on the road. The journey across America usually provides literature and film with creative inspiration. However, the road trip scenes in Sex Drive feel meandering and contribute nothing to the narrative. The characters encountered along the way are bizarre without being interesting or unique. Seth Green’s brief cameo as an Amish man leads to an amusing interlude where the characters party with the Amish, but it fails to leave any lasting impression.
Maybe Anders wants to make the point that Americans have become so generic that it no longer makes a difference where you travel, everyone is the same. But after meeting multiple versions of the same homophobic trucker and tricky blonde, the viewer begins to long for Ian to find his online fun buddy, if only so the interminable parade of stereotypes can come to a close. The ending comes as something of a surprise, depending on the cynical level of the viewer, but provides no lingering emotional quandary or regret, save perhaps a slight feeling of nausea at having paid six dollars to see the lower body of an old man, among other wayside attractions that both Ian and the viewer would probably be better off without ever having encountered.