There are limits to how much patented Walter Hill machismo one person can take and The Driver pushes its limit early on. Well, maybe not too early on, since the movie runs ninety minutes. It doesn’t help Ryan O’Neal doesn’t talk, Isabelle Adjani chokes through her English dialogue, and Bruce Dern turns in an exceptionally lousy performance. Dern’s bad acting is is a giant flare warning one away from The Driver. No one trying to make a good film–I mean Adjani’s character could just be learning English too–would allow Dern’s performance. But Hill isn’t trying to make a good movie. He’s trying to make a though, macho movie, making his casting choice of O’Neal hilarious.
O’Neal’s not particularly bad–since he doesn’t have much dialogue, there’s a lot less of a chance it’s going to be as terrible as the other characters’ dialogue–but he looks lost. His expression reminds of a deer trapped in the headlights, or an actor who stumbled on to the wrong set one morning and couldn’t get off.
Hill spent a lot of time choreographing his chase scenes, but they’re not any good. They’re gimmicky and boring. He reduces the police cars to objects, not vehicles containing people, in an attempt to desensitize the viewer for when O’Neal causes the cop cars to flip over or crash. Then he makes the cop hunting O’Neal (Dern in that atrocious performance) a vicious, corrupt bastard, so the audience will immediately side with baby-face O’Neal. I mean, he was in Paper Moon, after all.
Maybe if Hill’s direction weren’t so artless, The Driver would be a little more tolerable. There’s a mythic director’s cut to the film, running thirty minutes–thirty terrible minutes, I’m sure–longer. I can’t imagine how much more bad dialogue, boring action and lousy performances one film could contain. Dern’s real bad in this film, I’m not exaggerating; it’s one of the worst performances I can remember seeing from a movie not lensed in someone’s backyard. And even the music’s bad. But on the plus side, I think the opening titles were competently presented. No visible misspellings or capitalization errors.
Written and directed by Walter Hill; director of photography, Philip Lathrop; edited by Tina Hirsch and Robert K. Lambert; music by Michael Small; production designer, Harry Horner; produced by Lawrence Gordon; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Ryan O’Neal (The Driver), Bruce Dern (The Detective), Isabelle Adjani (The Player), Ronee Blakley (The Connection), Matt Clark (Red Plainclothesman), Felice Orlandi (Gold Plainclothesman), Joseph Walsh (Glasses) and Rudy Ramos (Teeth).