At 25 Double Feature: “License to Drive” and “Short Circuit 2”

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July 6, 2013 by billysparrow

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License to Drive

Released: July 6, 1988

Starring: Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Heather Graham, Richard Masur, Carol Kane, Michael Manasseri

Ah, the Coreys. Is there a twosome that defines the 1980s more than the Haimster and Feld-dog? You’re taking too long to answer, so let me just answer “yes” for the both of us so we can save some time. After all, this is a double feature, so time is of the essence. In fact, let me end this paragraph here so we can move on.

Yes, the Coreys are a quintessential part of the ’80s, whether it’s because of “The Lost Boys” (still haven’t seen it; not interested in vampires unless Leslie Nielsen is involved), “Dream A Little Dream” (a genuinely weird movie that’s sort of part of The Great Body-Switching Craze of the Late 1980s), or “License to Drive.” (As a fan, I feel obligated to also point out the Coreys movie I’ve seen the most, 1993’s “Blown Away,” or, as it should’ve been titled, “Nicole Eggert Is Naked and Having Sex in This! Multiple Times!”).

When I saw “License to Drive” on the list of movies released in 1988, I knew I would have to include it in the At 25 series. I also knew that it was probably not going to be an entirely enjoyable experience. I probably haven’t seen it since the ’80s and it struck me as a movie that was probably best appreciated at that time, preferably when one is a teenager. Despite the fact that I am a 36-year-old man who maintains that most of the “Police Academy” movies are still funny, watching the Coreys, who weren’t exactly laugh riots at their peak, did not seem like it would make for a fun weeknight in July.

Well, guess what? I was entirely and undeniably right! This movie is terrible. Really terrible. Not very funny. Atrociously written. And at 88 minutes, still about 45 too long. Wow, is it bad.

But, hey, there are some good songs in it. And maybe two OK scenes. So that’s something.

You know, that trailer pretty much covers all you need to see. In it, you get the gist of things, you’re essentially told the fate of the car/end of the movie, and you get a few looks at a young Heather Graham (whom I completely did not know was in this movie; for some reason, l have spent the last 25 years thinking Mercedes–very subtle–was played by a young Teri Polo). There’s really not much else to enjoy.

In fact, things get off to a really bad start with a cover of “Drive My Car” by The Breakfast Club, which had its own video in 1988. I’m not the world’s biggest Beatles fan, but even I’m a little taken aback by the badness of this one (though I’m sure I liked it in 1988, and thought it was an original, too; I definitely had the 45 of The Breakfast Club’s big hit, “Right on Track”).

This is the last of the songs in the movie that I actively dislike, though. In fact, soon after “Drive My Car” I heard in the background a song I’d completely forgotten about: Jane Wiedlin’s “Rush Hour” (fellow Go-Go Belinda Carlisle has a song in the movie as well: a cover of “I Feel Free”).

Is it obvious that I don’t want to talk about the actual movie? Should I go on about Pebbles’ “Mercedes Boy” or Billy Ocean’s stone-cold classic “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”? OK, fine, I’ll talk about the movie. And I’ll even mention one of the two good scenes in it, courtesy mainly of the performances by James Avery (from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”) and Grant Goodeve (“Eight Is Enough”). And you can watch it here in a video of a video on a computer screen. Technology!

Four things worth noting about that scene:

(1) Between this and “Summer School,” I’m starting to figure out why I was afraid of driving and have yet to get my driver’s license.

(2) The end features Helen Hanft, who was also in the previous “At 25” selection, “Coming to America” (as a woman on the subway urging Lisa to go with Akeem). While looking up her credits on IMDB, I discovered she died a little over a month ago. So, Godspeed to her. She nailed both of these small roles, particularly this one.

(3) In his review on “Siskel and Ebert: At the Movies,” Roger Ebert pointed out this scene as one of the film’s best, calling it “hilarious” (a bit of a stretch). And he and Gene Siskel fight, even though they both agree the movie is not good. So, if nothing else, rewatching “License to Drive” led me to remember how great it was when Siskel and Ebert fought.

(4) The scene is preceded by one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen in a movie. Les (Haim) fails the written part of the test but causes a DMV-wide computer malfunction when he slams his monitor in frustration. This causes all the test scores to be lost. Rather than making Les retake the test, the DMV test proctor (Hanft) gives Les a passing grade, because his twin sister passed the test (she finished before the malfunction) and she assumes because his twin sister passed, he must have done the same. What? Even for a movie where no one should be paying any attention to the plot, that one jumps out at you.

Another annoying feature of the movie is the constant “Something awful’s going to happen…Gotcha, no it’s not!” thing throughout. It’s fine once or twice but I feel like it happens about half a dozen times. I suppose I should have kept track of the exact number, but I was trying to stay alert for the Big Laugh. In retrospect, this was an unnecessary strategy.

Still, any movie with two great character actors like Richard Masur and Carol Kane (as Les’s parents) can’t be 100% terrible. Every time I see Masur in something (especially “My Girl 2,” a hidden gem of a movie, way better than the first), I feel like I want to hang out with him. And I’d hang with Carol Kane, too, though she’d probably tire of my questions about both Andy Kaufman and the filming of “My Blue Heaven.” This clip doesn’t really show you any highspots (they’re in the trailer), but there aren’t a ton of “License to Drive” clips on YouTube, so I might as well use what’s there.

What about the Coreys’ acting, you ask? Well, it’s fine, I guess. Feldman seems to do a lot of acting by pushing up his sleeves, and his character, Dean, is also saddled with the task of delivering the obligatory Mercedes puns (e.g., “This Mercedes has a dead battery,” “Did you ever think you’d see a Mercedes in the trunk of a Cadillac?”), which he does ably. Haim does what he can, too. And, to be fair, no one going to the movie was looking for fine acting anyway. They just wanted to see the two Coreys (which makes the inclusion of a third friend, Charles [Michael Manasseri], puzzling, particularly since he doesn’t do much, though Dean wouldn’t have been able to snap pictures of Mercedes’ boobs if Charles hadn’t brought his camera).

In the end, perhaps it is a sign of my maturity that “License to Drive” doesn’t hold up for me in 2013. Maybe my terrifyingly bad taste in movies isn’t as awful as I previously suspected. Maybe I’m not a lost cause when it comes to movies. Maybe I’m an adult, at last!

Well, let’s hold onto that pleasant thought for a second.

And now let me tell you how much I love “Short Circuit 2.”

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Short Circuit 2

Released: July 6, 1988

Starring: Tim Blaney, Fisher Stevens, Michael McKean, Cynthia Gibb, Jack Weston

I remember liking the first “Short Circuit” just fine. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’d ever seen (I’m now trying to think what was the greatest thing I’d ever seen when I was 11, other than the obvious ending of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series…probably “Police Academy 2”), but it had Guttenberg, a funny robot (sorry, living metal creature), and Ally Sheedy, so that seemed good enough (and the creepiness of the scene where it seems like Johnny Five might sleep with Sheedy didn’t register, so that helped). Plus the Indian guy talked funny.

So I don’t know that I was all that revved up to see “Short Circuit 2” when it was released, particularly once I realized that the Gutt and Sheedy weren’t in it (well, Sheedy’s voice was in it for 10 seconds), thus leaving Johnny Five (voiced by Tim Blaney) and the aforementioned Indian dude (Ben Jahveri, as played by Fisher Stevens), who, I was surprised to discover at the time, was, in fact, not Indian at all. I’m pretty sure I didn’t rush to the theater to see it, and I might have even waited until it came out on video.

Regardless, somewhere along the way, I discovered that I liked “Short Circuit 2” way more than I liked the first one. Who would’ve thought subtracting Guttenberg would make something better? Unbelievable! It’s like anything is possible now.

Since I have mocked the writing in “License to Drive,” you might expect me to spend an equal amount of time telling you how great the writing is in “Short Circuit 2.” Well. that’s not going to happen. I recognize that this isn’t a shiny diamond of a script. But it is a little more than a lump of coal, and, while I don’t know if I had any real from-the-gut laughs while rewatching the movie, there are a few good laughs here and there.

And, yes, many of them come from malapropisms delivered in an Indian accent by a guy who is not at all Indian. And, OK, this might be borderline offensive in 2013 and, quite possibly, will and should never happen in a movie again. But I would be a complete and utter liar if I said I didn’t laugh when Ben said the phrases “slower than moles’ asses in January” or “we are manufacturing them like gangbangers.” So if that makes me a creep, I can live with that. Quite frankly, I go through life assuming everyone thinks I’m a creep anyway.

But not all of the laughs are courtesy of Ben Jahveri. Just 99% of them. I’m not sure I laughed at the Los Locos scene, but I do have their chant memorized (do all gangs have chants and quasi-dance routines?). So, ladies, I’m available.

Another scene I enjoy but don’t necessarily break up in hysterics over is when Johnny Five drags Fred (Michael McKean, going through a rough work patch at the time but still enjoyable) into the World’s Biggest Bookstore, which, had the movie actually been filmed in New York and not Fake New York (i.e., Toronto), would have been the Strand. It’s probably a good thing it wasn’t filmed there. I’m overwhelmed enough when I go to the Strand; I don’t know if I’d be able to handle being there knowing Johnny Five had been there, too.

And, yes,  Les’s “passing” of the written driver’s license test in “License to Drive” is ridiculous and worthy of mockery, but I feel it is only fair to note that there is a far more implausible scene in “Short Circuit 2.” Ben and Fred are kidnapped by the bad guys, who, along with Johnny Five’s ostensible friend Oscar (played by Jack Weston, in what IMDB says is his final film role…what a way to wrap up) are trying to steal the Van de Veer diamond collection. The bad guys throw Ben and Fred in the walk-in freezer at a Chinese restaurant, where they are presumably left to die…until Ben finds a phone jack, they make a phone out of a calculator, and they leave coded messages on Sandy’s (Cynthia Gibb’s) answering machine in the hopes that (a) she somehow realizes Ben, whom she knows mainly through brief business encounters and one date, is leaving the message because he is in serious trouble and (b) can decode the messages, which are oldies song titles (it’s been established she’s into oldies). Guess what? It works!

It’s a completely insane scene, but, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me as much as “License to Drive.” Who can figure me out, huh? Anyway, see for yourself, along with the traumatic beating of Johnny Five (which, similarly ridiculously, is halted by two toy planes) in this YouTube clip posted by some dude, along with his commentary.

As we all know, Johnny Five does not die. With Fred’s help and a looting of Radio Shack, Johnny Five is able to be just enough alive to track down the bad guys, save the day, and become our first robotic citizen (despite at least two cases of blatant theft). And he does so to the accompaniment of “Holding Out for a Hero,” which makes anything cooler.

Have I convinced you yet that “Short Circuit 2” is a good movie? OK, you didn’t have to answer so quickly. And the name calling was unnecessary. But I get it. It’s probably not a good movie. It even has a lower ranking than “License to Drive” on IMDB. I’m right back to feeling like a loser.

But wait. What’s this on the cover of the DVD? Siskel and Ebert give it two thumbs up? Huh? This has to be a mistake. (Skip to 4:14 of the below unless you want to hear them hate on “Arthur 2: On the Rocks,” or 6:10 if you just want the review part.)

It’s true! Ebert seems a little upset with himself for liking it, though (I suppose “Roger Ebert says, ‘Not great, but pleasant!'” was vetoed for the DVD cover), and I’m not sure his points make that much sense. Siskel seems more OK with his upward thumb.

In any event, three people recommend you should see “Short Circuit 2.” Sadly, two of them are no longer with us (and I feel like if Ebert were still here, he might have second thoughts), so it is up to me to carry the torch for “Short Circuit 2.” And carry it I shall.

All I’m saying is if you’re looking for input, you could do worse than “Short Circuit 2.” I’m hoping that gets quoted on the cover of the next iteration of the movie. In the meantime, I need to think about getting my signed poster of “Short Circuit 2” framed. I should wait until I get Michael McKean on it, though. And, man, if I could somehow get Tim Blaney, that would be incredible.

So much for being an adult. I’ll keep trying.

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2 thoughts on “At 25 Double Feature: “License to Drive” and “Short Circuit 2”

  1. Thom Denick says:

    When I was a kid, I really, really liked Space Camp and Short Circuit. They both awoke an inner nerd that I didn’t really see in real life around me. Until you mentioned it, I did not know that guy was Indian. I don’t think I knew what an Indian was until I got to High School.

  2. Thom Denick says:

    Actually, I did know what Indians were. I forgot about that whole Columbus shenanigan they teach you very early.

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