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‘Overdrive’: Film Review

Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp play high-stakes car thieves who get mixed up with mobsters in this revved-up heist thriller.

The phenomenal success of the Fast and the Furious series has inevitably spawned a spate of rubber-burning copycats, from the deluxe nerd porn of Edgar Wright’s wildly overpraised Baby Diver to more nakedly obvious cash-ins like this glossy French heist thriller. Parallels with the multi-billion-dollar car-chase franchise are more than cosmetic. Overdrive’s American screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas scored their first hit with 2 Fast 2 Furious while leading man Scott Eastwood had a minor role in the most recent blockbuster installment, The Fate of the Furious

Colombian director Antonio Negret is mostly known for his TV work, but producer Pierre Morel is the key name here. A graduate of the Luc Besson school of French-set, English-language action thrillers, Morel directed Liam Neeson in the first Taken movie back in 2008. Currently in U.K. theaters ahead of its French debut later this week, Overdrive is receiving a staggered European and Asian release before its U.S. launch. This kind of roll-out is usually reserved for dead-in-the-water duds, but it worked for Taken and may yet help turbocharge the commercial prospects of this formulaic adolescent male button-pusher, which is witless and brainless but not entirely joyless.

Eastwood and his vapid pretty-boy Brit co-star Freddie Thorp play transatlantic half-brothers who finance their international playboy lifestyle by stealing high-end classic sports cars for shady clients. Their current base of operations is the sun-drenched French port city of Marseille, where they make the grave error of hijacking a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 that has just sold at action for $41 million to a notorious local crime boss, Morier (Simon Abkarian). To avoid lethal punishment, the brothers rashly promise to purloin a priceless 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO from Morier’s even more brutal German rival Klemp (Clemens Schick). With French cops shadowing every move by both thieves and mobsters, what could possibly go wrong?

Overdrive comes with all the standard features for this kind of cheerfully inane auto-erotic escapade. The twist-heavy plot is totally preposterous and the trite dialogue could have been written by a computer algorithm, but the breakneck car chases are staged with kinetic efficiency, making excellent use of the dramatic gorges and mountain roads north of Marseille. The two stars are blandly attractive eye candy, the villains cartoonish ogres with fortress-like villas, and the female leads supermodel-pretty male fantasy figures with implausibly geeky interests in cars and gadgets. Mechanic Pixie Dream Girls, in short.

That said, Cuban-born Ana de Armas (soon to be seen in Blade Runner 2049) radiates more kick-ass charisma than her thankless sidekick role might suggest. And Eastwood’s increasing resemblance to his superstar father lends a kind of eerie second-hand cool to his sardonic squint and unruffled manner, adding a vague approximation of depth to a resolutely shallow screenplay, just as Clint himself brought a touch of class to his own mid-career Eurotrash vehicles like Kelly’s Heroes or The Eiger Sanction. Fans of vintage Ferraris, Porsches, Bugattis, BMWs and more will also find plenty of buff bodywork to drool over here, since the film’s four-wheeled stars are lit and shot with more devotional attention to detail than even the most demanding Hollywood diva.

Untaxing as drama, thin as entertainment, but modestly enjoyable as a revved-up caper movie, Overdrive is pure escapist fluff with a light French accent. Which still makes it smarter, leaner and cooler than any of the Fast and the Furious films it shamelessly mimics.

Production companies: Kinology, Sentient Pictures
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Freddie Thorp, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss, Clemens Schick, Simon Abkarian
Director: Antonio Negret
Screenwriters: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Producers: Pierre Morel, Gregoire Melin, Christopher Tuffin
Cinematographer: Laurent Bares
Editors: Samuel Danesi, Sophie Fourdrinoy
93 minutes
 

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