By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
For those who thought that Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder wasn’t enough to satisfy their adrenaline rush, and have always craved for another helping of the subject over the ensuing decades, can finally rejoice, as Over Drive ticks all the boxes Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic film did back in 1990. The story takes place in the cut-throat world of rally car racing, specifically the SCRS (Seiko Cup Rally Series), where young, up-and-coming drivers face-off against each other to qualify for the even more prestigious WRC (World Rally Championship). Made up of thirteen races held at various locations around Asia (particularly Japan), they will push both themselves and their vehicles to the absolute limit.
The main focus is on two brothers; Atsuhiro Hiyama (Masahiro Higashide), the eldest, is the dedicated chief mechanic, while Naozumi (Mackenyu Arata, son of the legendary Sonny Chiba) is the arrogant hotshot who never listens to his sibling’s instructions. Working for Team Spica, run by Issei Tsuzuki (Kotaro Yoshida), the two are frequently at odds with each other, with Naozumi believing the reason for their success is him alone, while Atsuhiro continually tries to remind his brother that every team member has played an integral part in the group’s winning ways.
Naozumi’s main rival is the much more level-headed Akira Shinkai (Takumi Kitamura) from Team Sigma, who listens to his crew and co-driver. Arriving on the scene is Hikaru Endo (Aoi Morikawa), a young, newly assigned sports agent who is not only mistreated by her male colleagues, but by the obnoxious Naozumi as well. Her presence however reignites a painful memory for the brothers. As the series nears its final race, will Team Spica work together as one, or will Naozumi’s selfishness keep them from the big time? Despite some notable pedigree in front of and behind the camera, Over Drive never rises above the routine. Though it moves quick enough, and has a professional sheen, nothing can disguise the thin, cliché-ridden script by Sayaka Kuwamura (Strobe Edge), which never develops any of the characters or story threads beyond the one-dimensional.
Eiichiro Hasumi, who helmed the rather unfairly maligned Umizaru films (the first of which clearly inspired the Kevin Costner drama The Guardian) and the highly entertaining Assassination Classroom live-action movies, tries to give the standard plot a heartbeat, but cannot effectively gloss over the cheesy dialogue and non-stop contrivances. Higashide, who has built up an impressive body of work, including strong performances in The Kirishima Thing (2012), Creepy (2016), Sekigahara (2017) and Foreboding (2017), does his best with limited material, and at least manages to get through the film unscathed. Arata (the Chihayafuru trilogy), doesn’t fare as well, remaining an unpleasant caricature for too long, when we know that Tom Cruise-style behavioural change is going to occur. Morikawa, who was terrific in A.I. Love You and River’s Edge, is wasted here in a weak, thankless role.
What comes as a nice surprise is that the racing sequences are done for real, and in this age where so many action scenes are smothered in CGI, does afford the film some excitement when the cars are front-and-centre. Otherwise this is strictly formula stuff; nicely crafted and headed by a strong cast, but lacking any kind of emotional core beneath its slick surface.