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United States, 1999
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian
Grenier, Susan May Pratt, Kris Park, Ali Larter, Mark Webber,
Gabriel Carpenter, Keri Lynn Pratt, Stephen Collins, Mark Metcalf,
William Converse-Roberts, Faye Grant
For the second time in one year, Hollywood has given us a version of Pygmalion set in a high school. And, as must be the case for seemingly every teenage movie, the climactic moment occurs during The Big Dance. However, whereas She's All That tells the story of a boy who transforms an ugly duckling girl into the perfect prom date, Drive Me Crazy reverses the gender. Here, it's the girl whose ministrations re-work the boy from a pouting, antisocial rebel into Mr. Popularity. The plot is pretty standard and not all that deep, but the execution results in a surprisingly pleasant, albeit formulaic, final product. And Drive Me Crazy has a better flavor than She's All That - the main characters are more engaging, the supporting characters are more interesting, and there's no sign of an annoying wager subplot (where the cool character associates with the uncool one because of a bet).
Nicole Maris (Melissa Joan Heart) is one of the most perky and popular girls at Timothy Zonin High School. Although Nicole doesn't have a boyfriend, she has her sights set on the perfect date for the upcoming Centennial Dance: Brad (Gabriel Carpenter), the star of the basketball team. At first, Brad seems primed to ask Nicole, but fate intervenes, he falls in love, and Nicole is out in the cold, fuming that "high school love is for saps." Horrified at the possibility of attending The Big Dance unescorted, she resorts to plan B - go with her next door neighbor, Chase Hammond (Adrian Grenier), who has just broken up with his girlfriend, Dulcie (Ali Larter). The two make a pact: Chase will provide Nicole with a perfect date while she will help him win Dulcie back by making the ex-girlfriend jealous. The first step is that Chase has to give up his James Dean attitude and become part of the "in crowd" - a move that proves to be surprisingly easy. Of course, in keeping with the accepted formula, Nicole and Chase fall for each other, but, since neither is willing to admit their true feelings, a series of misunderstandings keeps them apart for an inordinately long time.
Until the end, when everything is neatly resolved, the romantic situations are often murky. At one point, Chase has no fewer than four potential mates, and Nicole has nearly as many. Of course, we recognize that these two are destined to be together (a fact that kills any real tension), but the film toys with the possibility of pairing them off with others, and, unlike in many similar movies, the rivals are actually decent, likable characters. However, while the main storyline is enjoyable in a low-key, predictable way, the subplots are uniformly lame. In a teenage version of You've Got Mail, one chronicles the meeting between a geek friend of Chase's (played by Mark Webber) and his longtime Internet pen-pal. Another features a "friend" of Nicole's (Susan May Pratt) scheming to dig her claws into any boy that Nicole is interested in. And a third involves Nicole's attempts to keep the lines of communication open with her nearly-estranged father (Stephen Collins).
Drive Me Crazy is cute and frothy, and, paradoxically, those qualities are among its chief selling points and its most obvious weaknesses. The target audience (presumably teenage girls) will probably be pleased with a film that boasts light romance, a good looking male co-star, and a happy ending, but older viewers may be disappointed by the lack of something more substantial. Personally, I would have enjoyed a little more dialogue. Drive Me Crazy contains a lot of snappy one-liners, but not much in the way of meaningful verbal interplay. In fact, the romance between Nicole and Chase develops as much because the formula demands it as because of any real interaction between the two characters.
Drive Me Crazy appears to be a vehicle for Melissa Joan Hart, who can't play Sabrina for the rest of her life (in fact, at age 23, she's starting to look a little long in the tooth to be portraying a teenager). This is a safe role, since it isn't a departure from her comfort zone (although she does get to utter a few four-letter words that aren't allowed on network TV). She shows some charm and charisma, and is okay as an actress, but, based on the evidence here, it's difficult to understand why she's so popular. Meanwhile, her co-star, Adrian Grenier, is getting his first major exposure. Grenier, who gave a stronger performance in a more substantial part as the title character in The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, neither excels nor embarrasses himself. The supporting cast is made up of mix-and-match teenagers, none of whom leaves a lasting impression.
Despite Drive Me Crazy's predictability and general lack of inspiration, I must admit that I enjoyed parts of the film, and I smiled far more often than I frowned. Director John Schultz does his job. This production doesn't take risks or try anything ambitious. Quite the opposite is true, in fact - those who see Drive Me Crazy with the expectation of getting something familiar will be pleased by what they encounter. It's certainly not great art, but the results are achieved with enough competence that an audience who favors this sort of fare will leave the theater happy.