THE DRIVER (2019): A Mark Dacascos Family Affair + Zombies

The Dacascos family stars in a riff on A QUIET PLACE

Mark Dacascos is having a year. With a standout performance in one of the greatest box office successes of 2019 in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Dacascos once again reminded audiences the world over why he’s an international treasure. In the 1990s he thrilled audiences as a leading man in such beloved action films as Only The Strong, Double Dragon, and Drive. He soared back onto people’s radars with France’s The Brotherhood Of The Wolf in 2001. And while I’m unfamiliar with his work on the tv show Iron Chef, he probably gained his greatest wide audience familiarity in his hosting role as The Chairman in that long running reality tv series. He’s never quite been a multiplex superstar, but he’s displayed incredible martial arts skill, charisma aplenty, and a nice-guy charm that’s allowed his career to span decades.

Here in The Driver, he teams up with Thai director Wych Kaosayananda (Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever) in what is largely a Thai production filmed in English and cast with primarily English-speaking actors. It’s a zombie apocalypse and therefore some official rules are laid out in exposition towards the beginning. Our unnamed protagonist Dacascos introduces us to his world as he and a fellow enforcer are driving in his pristine BMW to leave a condemned thief alone in the wilderness to be overtaken by zombies. They’re fast zombies, and they don’t really respond to sight or smell, but exclusively to sound. The Driver leaves the thief, fires a few shots in the air, and drives off as zombies quickly swarm the unfortunate thief.

Soon we’re introduced to the encampment where apocalyptic survivors are eking out an existence and where Dacascos heads up security. Dacascos’ own real-life wife, actress Julie Condra (co-stars in Crying Freeman) here plays The Driver’s wife Sharon, and their own daughter Noelani Dacascos here plays movie daughter Bree. In the superior first half of the film there’s a Walking Dead-like human drama in which a traitor allows marauders into the encampment, which is obviously doomed in a world where zombies swarm to any sound. Shortly The Driver and Bree find themselves on the road with a ruined encampment and death in their wake. There’s some solid action here in this battle where Dacascos displays some of his great physical talent. Stunt Coordinator and Fight Choreographer Brahim Chab does admirable work in this area.

Once Bree and Driver hit the road, the film really struggles. A film that had bordered on showing its very low budget puts its cheapness right out in the open with many minutes and multiple scenes that take place in the BMW and which look absolutely awful in their green screen technique. It’s painfully obvious that all of the car sequences were filmed on a set and a lot of the movie takes place in this environment.

Fundamentally, The Driver wants to be a film about a doomed man training up his daughter to survive in a hellish world. It wants to be about a great dad sacrificing all so that his daughter might live. It’s just extremely weird that a warrior this fastidious wouldn’t have been raising his daughter like this from the start. Noelani Dacascos actually does a fairly adequate job as an actress, but she’s clearly a pre-teen and her character is drawing unicorns and seems totally unfamiliar with the world of zombies that exist just outside her walls in the first half of the film.

The application of the rules of this world are also very frustrating. Where the clear inspiration for this film, A Quiet Place, establishes some pretty firm rules around loud sounds being the catalyst for monster attacks, The Driver is quite selective in what kinds of sounds trigger zombies to swarm. A driving car, for instance, doesn’t seem to be an issue because that just makes it easier for this movie to prominently feature a BMW. But slamming the car doors closed? Zombies. Also, guns clearly draw the attention of zombies… but since onscreen guns in action movies are cool, our characters just all use guns all the time instead of any other kind of weapon that might not draw zombies.

Here in anno domini two thousand and nineteen, if you want to make a zombie movie, you’ve really got to justify its existence with something fresh or original. I guess The Driver attempts to add a touching family drama to that formula in a way that overtly rips off of A Quiet Place, but unfortunately it apes neither The Walking Dead or A Quiet Place with any particular skill or freshness to justify its existence. The overall flow of a script that takes us from a stronghold during a zombie apocalypse, forces us on the road in a desperate bid to survive, and sets up a situation where a father must train and save his daughter from the doomed world they live in is a good and propulsive premise. And the family Dacascos are kind of sweet to watch. But the filmmaking and script work fail to make this a smart or compelling film and The Driver ultimately offers very little of note to recommend it.

And I’m Out.

The Driver arrives on DVD, Digital, and On Demand November 26th, 2019 from Lionsgate

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