The Drive-In? Whoop-doo!
If there's one lasting remnant the Drive-In era gave us, it's the Z-grade flick. The second run feature whose only purpose in this world seemed to be providing background noise for steamy windshield procreation and swing-side fist fights. These weird sci-fi, roadhog, monster movie mash-ups would later go on to be ridiculed and dissected by the likes of MST3K and Gilbert Gottfried on USA's Up All Night. They were cheap. They were greasy. They were poorly made. But more than anything, they were fun. The self-aggrandizing film critic would never support such cinematic offshoots. Most of these wrought gut flicks found their fate at the bottom of a dumpster or a landfill.
The 90s tried to clamp a sweaty palm down on these so-called grungy endeavors. Sure, the local VHS depot had more direct-to-video turds than any Drive-In projectionist could ever hope to reel-up. But the true art and essence of schlock disappeared from the thirty-screened multiplexes that rose to prominence during this time. If a film was bad, it was far from intentional. Even the so-called "Grindhouse" flicks got a nice Indie makeover that spanked the crusted jizz off their greening, scratched-up negatives. It wasn't until 2000 that we saw a whole new age of true Z-grade fodder rise up through the ranks of modern day cinema. They have since shepherded in a new wave of Drive-In Theater mania on their prospective heels. As more of these films are released, more and more Drive-Ins have started to reopen across the country.
These new Drive-In classics didn't arrive in rust-covered spool casings either. No. They arrived in glossy new packages. Each and every one had a glaring sheen to it, as if waxed with Pledge. The actors were all good looking, their thematic family tree and pedigree was up to snuff. They felt like real, breathing entities of weekend worthy cinema. Yet at the same time, they upheld the mantra of the Drive-In movie theater esthetic. They were weird, crazy, crappy stabs at exploitation the likes of which we hadn't seen in a very long time. They were wolves in sheep's clothing, and some of them even managed to open up number one at the box office.
They weren't self-referential studies in metaphor, like the films that followed in Wes Craven's Scream wake. And they certainly didn't carry a whiff of Quentin Tarantino's hipster cool. Or one bit of self-deprecating humor in their bones. They were just Z grade ideas hoping to make it back onto the big screen. They helped create a new sub-genre for the Aughts. Each and ever one of these 00 films falls into the category of Glossy Schlock. They're pretty. They're ugly. And if you look at them from just the right angle of the couch (on the sideways cushion with a glass of wine or whiskey in your hand), you'll discover yourself oddly engaged. Most, but not all, of them had this weird blue hue that seemed to sink them to the bottom of a swimming pool. And most, but not all, had just a one-word title to sum up their weight in awesomeness. Once we point them out, you'll forever recognize their wonton ways as they continue to make their way into theaters and Drive-Ins throughout the country, thriving deep into the teens.
Here are the Glossy Schlock Classics that redefined and established a new genre of Drive-In fodder over the course of this past decade, helping theaters such as The Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, California and The Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown, TN, flourish and grow back into the entertainment venue behemoths they once were. If it weren't for folks like Nicolas Cage and Erica Christensen, the world of cinema would be a much darker, damper, joyless place. And a whole new generation of film lovers wouldn't ever know what a Drive-In Movie Theater is.
The Best Drive-In Glossy Schlock of the Aughts!
Released in 2002, it opened number one at the box office with $11.3 million dollars. It eventually earned $34.4 million worldwide. It was directed by John Polson, who went on to direct such Gloss Schlock classics as Hide and Seek and Tenderness before moving into the realm of episodic television. Polson has also directed the pilot episodes of both JJ Abrams' Fringe and the critical darling The Good Wife. SwimFan single-handedly created and established the Glossy Schlock genre, ushering in a new kind of Drive-In movie. One that looked, felt, and smelt like a sexy magazine ad. It tasted like the best bowl of hardy candy, and it was shockingly ludicrous. The film stars Jesse Bradford as high school jock Ben Cronin, an aspiring Olympian struggling with a former "drug problem". Number one on his high school swim team, he is trying to impress a visiting athletic scout from Stanford University. All while juggling a beautiful girlfriend and helping his mom as a candy stripper at the local hospital. His life gets a major shake-up when new girl in town Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) takes a keen liking too him. They eventually have sex in the community swimming pool, but when Ben tries to break off the affair, Ms. Bell turns into a raving sociopath. Turns out the girl is a "swim junky" and has a history of stalking Olympian hopefuls, delving into horrible boughts of violence whenever she doesn't get her way. Its dark. It's deadly. It's hilarious. Yes. It's enough to keep Michael Phelps from ever getting into a swimming pool ever again. Jesse Bradford also starred in the Aught Schlock cheerleading classic Bring It On and the time travel Z-fest Clockstoppers. Erika Christensen collected a nice resume full of Drive-In titles this past decade including Home Room, The Perfect Score, and Riding the Bullet.
#2 The Fast and the Furious
This mega-behemoth slammed into movie theaters during the summer of 2001, opening number one at the box office with $40 million. It went on to earn $207 million worldwide. The film was directed by Aught Schlock king Rob Cohen, who also directed such neo-Drive-In classics as The Skulls, xXx, Stealth, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Empire. The Fast and the Furious is the grand daddy of Glossy Schlock. This revved up race flick, which pitted motorheads against undercover cops, went on to spawn three sequels and counting. All despite the fact that its script was a near facsimile of the Kathryn Bigalow action classic Point Break. All four Fast and Furious flicks work in creating a jumbo-sized quadruple feature that would ruin and wreck just about any theater deciding to spool it back to back. The series chronicles the ever-evolving love affair between drag racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and FBI agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) as they work towards creating the perfect illegal street chase union. It's an action-packed, adrenaline-fueled ride that pulls from the wreckage of 50s Era greaser cinema while also pushing the art of muscle car worship deep into the future. Vin would later reteam with Cohen for the projector melting xXx. While Paul Walker would head-up such grungy B flicks as Joy Ride, Timeline, and the epic Running Scared.
This gut-punch of schlock cinema opened in the fall of 2004, bringing in $6.1 million on its opening weekend. It eventual went on to earn $16.7 million worldwide, latter becoming a bonafide hit on DVD. Nothing short of a small dumpster diamond masterpiece, Paparazzi was directed by Paul Abascal, whose only substantial credit since has been an episode of America's Most Wanted. Produced by Mel Gibson, the film attempts to capture the horrible atrocities most young actors face when it comes to dealing with the Paparazzi. Living in the limelight is a rough life, and action star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) isn't having any of it. Pulling from the real life debacles experienced by Princess Diane, Gibson himself, and countless young "hot mess" debutants, the film quickly careens out of control, becoming a deliberate revenge flick that certainly delivers on the action front. Tormented by a loopy photographer (Tom Sizemore), Bo must take this flash bulb fight into his own hands when the local police refuse to recognize that tabloid hound Rex Hunter has done awful things to Bo's wife and child. It's a hooray-inducing visceral blood ride that doesn't let up to the very end. And it inspired Lady Gaga to write her best song to date. Star Cole Hauser also went on to rule the Aught Schlock scene with such powerful Drive-In ditties as The Cave, Dirty, and Tortued. While co-star Tom Sizemore ruled the direct-to-DVD shelf with more wrought gut titles than we have room to name here.
This sweat-soaked cat fight to end all cat fights opened number one at the box office in April of this year, kicking off with a $28.6 million weekend take that eventually lead to worldwide grosses of more than $73 million. Acclaimed TV director Steve Shill made his big screen debut with Obsessed, pulling from an entire decade of Glossy Schlock to create the perfect Aught Drive-In capper. Who wouldn't want to watch Beyonce Knowles, one of this generation's greatest musical talents, bring the smackdown upon Ali Lauter, one of the tartest sexpots to ever grace the silver screen? Pretty much no one, as this film appealed to just about every demographic known to mankind. More a treaty on spousal romance than race relations, Shill decided to make his main man Idris Elba, a guy who flirts with infidelity, the innocent bystander in this no-holds barred fistfight between two sexy, tight dress-wearing women. When a hot and bothered temp decides she needs a big black stud inside her, she stops at nothing to get inside Elba's pants. A unique problem in the genre, Elba actually loves his wife (and who wouldn't?). He wants nothing to do with Larter's sociopath. Which makes her violent streak even more amusing. Larter pretty much sets Alba up to look worse than Tiger Woods, drugging him and raping him at a coastal resort. And then claiming it was a torrid affair. We should all have such problems. The climactic end tussle is a manic blast of feministic brutality that has to be seen to be believed. And to top it all off, Shill even sprinkles a little Crudo (the as-yet unreleased collaboration between Mike Patton and Dan the Automator) into the mix for perfect flavoring.
This wholly grail of motorcycle madness opened number five at the box office in January of 2004, pulling down $11.4 million during its first three days of release. The film eventually went on to earn $46.5 million worldwide, becoming a video store hit and a cult sensation. What can be said about the film that hasn't already been said a million times before? It's a blistering whirlwind of awesomeness that taste like stainless steel and looks like a video game exploding plastic shrapnel deep into your eye. The storyline is very thin, and centers on themes prevalent in its forefather The Fast and the Furious. In fact, some consider it a trussed up rip-off with characters acknowledging that very fact on screen. Martin Henderson plays crotch rocket racer Cary Ford, a man framed and forced to infiltrate his old biker gang. While desperately trying to clear his name of murder, we get to see this madman do all kinds of crazy, improbable CGI-generated stunts on a motorcycle. Including jumping one onto a moving train. A scene that is later referenced by Beatrix Kiddo in Quentin Tarantino's epic ode to Drive-In kung fu Kill Bill Vol. 1. Director Joseph Kahn, who got his start working in music videos, plans to follow-up this slam-bang bolt of visual electricity with Neuromancer, a cyber-space thriller that should wreck many Drive-In screens come 2011. Martin Henderson went onto pursue his B movie dreams by appearing in both Flyboys and Smokin' Aces.
#6 The Covenant
Moments before the barrel chested boys of Twilight came to dominate the shitty cinema scene, the male witch brood of The Covenant somehow managed to take theater screens across the country by storm. In September of 2006, this amazing ode to The Lost Boys opened number one at the box office with $8.8 million, eventually going onto earn $37.5 million worldwide and becoming a smash hit on the DVD sales charts. It was directed by Renny Harlin, who would quickly become the Mayor of Schlock City throughout the Aughts with such seminal Drive-In fare as Driven, Mindhunters, and 12 Rounds. The Covenant is best known for one scene in particular, which has a young warlock dismantling a speeding car and then putting it back together with his mind. The story revolves around the Sons of Ipswich, a coven of male witches who have developed supernatural powers from their once-shunned ancestors. These teen Warlocks not only have to deal with the trials and tribulations that come with using and abusing their "gifts", they also have to navigate the hallways of their local high school, where an evil threatens to destroy them all. It's a glorious cheese-filled wanton of weirdness that's so astute at utilizing its Drive-In prowess; you might think it was crafted in the late fifties. Except that it's housed in a modern day sheen of sexiness. Taylor Kitsch, who went onto star in Friday Night Lights and the schlock-heavy Wolverine, and Chace Crawford, of the CW's Gossip Girl, are the two biggest names to thus far emerge from this cast of mostly unknowns.
#7 Charlie's Angels
This high-gloss remake of the once popular tough chick television series punched an unsuspecting audience in the gut with full force when it opened number one at the box office in November of 2000. Taking in $40 million over the course of its opening weekend, and culling a $264 million haul before all was said and done, director McG redefined what action cinema could be with this non-stop candy dish of sexy action. It was so mind blowing, some critics couldn't take it. Yes. There were those few that claimed Charlie's Angels to be one of the worst movies of all time. Those sad cretins had yet to experience the sex and boozed fueled brevity found in the front seat of a car parked at the Drive-In. Starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu all at the top of their game, there wasn't a better film to get your dick sucked to, with a beer in hand, breathing the cool night air through the sun roof this past decade. Just as you were blowing your load all over the roof of the car, this explosion of flesh and fire was doing the same up on that silver screen. Add Bill Murray, Crispin Glover, and plenty of short skirts to the mix, and you have what might be the best mainstream sexploitation flick to ever grace the megaplexes of Middle America this entire past decade. This is what happens when the big dogs roll around in the muck for a tiny minute. Though all involved would later become involved in some pretty shitty theatrical fare in the future, nothing could ever top the Gloss Schlock value of this early Aught kicker.
#8 The Marine
John Cena bucked the wresting ring for movie stardom with this, his first big screen outing. It proved to be a monster joy ride of highball explosions and rapid-fire machinegun blasts that would make even Michael Bay proud. Opening in October of 2006, the film pulled down $7.1 million during its first week of release before going onto earn $22 million worldwide and becoming a certified hit on the video store circuit. The film gloriously recalls the heyday of 80s action flicks, when behemoths like Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the scene. It was as if director John Bonito, a veteran of the WWE scene himself, had culled every awesome action film from the past twenty years and rolled it into one wicked tale of revenge. Sure, Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz attempted to do the same thing, but this here was the real deal. The plot finds former Marine John Triton losing his wife to a couple of jewelry store robbers. His spends the rest of the movie's allotted running time making sure that these kidnappers, lead by schlock maestro Robert Patrick, never walk again. It's a non-stop ride that's likely to whip the skin off your face if you get too close to the television screen. The Marine still proves to be a spicy dish best served with a couple of cold beers and a spooge napkin. Cena has since gone on to prove his Drive-In worth with the follow-up classic 12 Rounds and the upcoming Wrestling melodrama Brother's Keeper. John Bonito has yet to make another film, but we are all anxiously awaiting his imminent return to the big screen. Though its unlikely that he will ever be able to top this Gloss Schlock masterpiece ever again.
#9 The Wicker Man
The Drive-In Theater would have been a dead, dull place without Nicolas Cage to kick around throughout the Aughts. He has made some of the best Z grade fodder any Drive-In theater screen has ever seen. And he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. When looking at the mass amount of F. Art the man has pushed on us like a dope fiend this past decade, it's hard to point a finger at just one of his many greasy masterpieces. But the culmination of all that hard work shines brightest through The Wicker Man. Directed by Neil LaBute, a true auteur once renowned for his classic studies in human behavior, this remake of Robin Hardy's 1973 horror classic is a truly astonishing spectacle to behold. Nicolas Cage pushes his weirdo meter past the breaking point as a policeman on a secret mission to find his ex-wife's missing daughter. His quest leads him to a honey island ruled by women. Out douche-bumping even his own recent Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Cage dons a bear suit, engages in a bike chase, and kicks both Leelee Sobieski and the much older Ellen Burstyn in the face. And that's just a taste of this deliciously atrocious frosted cake. It's packed with sheer craziness from the opening credits to that final ending moment, where Nick Cage gets bested by a bunch of bees. While Neil LaBute made a name for himself with prestige pictures like In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors, he would follow up the $38.7 million success of The Wicker Man with the schlock worthy race relations thriller Lakeview Terrace and the upcoming remake Death at a Funeral. Nicolas Cage would continue his Drive-In reign all the way through the end of this decade with equally whacked out turns in Ghost Rider, Next, Bangkok Dangerous, Bad Lieutenant, and Knowing. He seems content to keep kicking through this life style well into the Teens. With Season of the Witch, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Drive Angry all heading our way soon.
#10 The Real Cancun
Opening with a less than successful take of just $2.1 million dollars in 2003, MTV claimed to be reinventing the modern movie documentary with this trashed and smashed look at college life during spring break. Hopping to score off the huge ratings boon reality television was experiencing at the time, director Rick de Oliveira decided to move the popular dynamics of MTV's The Real World to the big screen. This is essentially one long season squished to the time constraints of a second run Drive-In feature. And it proved to be as captivating and unintentionally hilarious as any faux-documentary that came out of the late sixties and early seventies. This was exploitation at its grandest scale, as it proclaimed to be an authentic look at the debauchery ruling our Spring Break beaches. It promised sex and scandal, but like an expose on Big Foot, it never quite proved the existence of either. It was a shellacked and manufactured teen sex romp that took all of the genre tropes of its forefathers and ran them through a group of dysfunctional entitles pretending to be real people. In the process, it fully upheld the Drive-In esthetic of a once bygone era. We were supposed to see more of these films from MTV. The Real Cancun's failure at the box office meant that this was the only one we'd ever get to see this decade. And that's a shame. Director Rick de Oliveria has since gone onto produce many successful reality shows for VH1. Cast member Laura Ramsey, who played herself, has gone onto appear in such Gloss Schlock classics as The Covenant and The Ruins.
This is not only the last Boos! of 2009, but also of this past decade. I hope you all prosper and thrive in the coming years. Remember to Eat Food! Kill Grandma! And to make some Whoop-doo! of your own! Thanks for reading, and I will see my Whoop-Doo Nation on the other side of 2010! Live and Thrive! Don't Drink and Drive! (Unless it's absolutely necessary; like, say for another six-pack and a rope of beef jerky.)