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'Sex Drive' sputters on nervy agitation

October 17, 2008|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

If the title doesn't say it clearly enough, "Sex Drive" is about young men (mostly), young women (tangentially), cars and sex (or the lack thereof). Shot by cinematographer Tim Orr, the look of the film wavers between a startlingly natural, sunlit palette and a rather generic high-key gloss. That same tension, between conventionality and the unexpected, plays out across the entire film.

The film is directed by Sean Anders and is adapted by him and John Morris from the young adult novel "All the Way" by Andy Behrens. A young lad (Josh Zuckerman) makes a connection online with a girl in another state. Not wanting to head off to college a virgin, he swipes his older brother's muscle car, packs in his two best friends and is off in search of sex. In the broadest of contours, the film is similar to the '80s chestnut "The Sure Thing," but it plays more like the randy, semi-sensitive antics of a few entries in the "American Pie" series.

Though Zuckerman is unappealingly flat throughout the film -- a frequent downfall for those cast in the "nice guy" role -- he does pull off occasional notes of emotional honesty. Seth Green scores every time he is on screen as a particularly sarcastic Amish auto mechanic. In his first sizable film role, Clark Duke single-handedly ups the oddball quotient as one of Zuckerman's sidekicks, something of a one-man combo of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera from "Superbad." (Duke and Cera collaborated on a series of online shorts, "Clark and Michael.") Duke, as a pudgy playboy, gives off an angsty but easygoing charm that is somehow both sleazy and innocent, dropping in such observations as how he's been listening to a lot of Sonic Youth -- apropos of nothing except his own eccentric affability.

The film at its best touches the same eternally nerdy, nervy agitation as the anthemic song "Sex Drive" by '80s Midwestern college-rock combo the Embarrassment. (That song is sadly and strangely not included in the film that shares its name.) The teen comedies that are remembered tap into something fundamental about their time, and here Anders smartly finds a way for many of the characters' most embarrassing moments to be somehow caught on tape, which leads to a quick cutaway to a YouTube page, capturing how the anxieties of adolescence can now be stingingly spread like never before.

Touches like this keep "Sex Drive" from being just another run-of-the-mill teen comedy. Occasionally sharp but never quite as smartly formed as it could be, this "Sex Drive" is only partly worth the trip.


"Sex Drive." MPAA rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some drug and alcohol use -- all involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. In general release.

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