Drive Me Crazy

Usually, when we speak of movie genres, they’re something broad like “action/adventure” or “slapstick comedy.” Maybe you could get as specific as “fugitive-on-the-lam thriller” or “gross-out comedy,” but that’s still pretty general.

But now we seem to have a bona fide new genre that is as specific as its very plot: It’s the “two-teens-who-seem-like-opposites-go-to-a-really- important-high-school-dance-together-
as-a-charade-to-achieve-other-purposes- but-wind-up-falling-in-love-for-real” genre.

“Drive Me Crazy” follows this plot to the letter, though it does it in a fairly likable, harmless way. Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) is certain that bland hunk Brad (Gabriel Carpenter) will ask her to the high school’s centennial celebration dance, but he asks someone else instead. So Nicole turns to next-door-neighbor Chase (Adrian Grenier), a low-rent rebel (putting orange coloring in the school’s sprinkler system is as delinquent as he gets) for a date. What’s in it for him? He’s just been dumped by his ultra-activist, tree-hugging girlfriend Dulcie (Ali Larter), and surely seeing him with the school-spirited, all-American Nicole would drive her mad with jealousy — just like Brad’s supposed to get upset when he sees Nicole with the tousle-haired Chase.

It has to look real, though, so Nicole and Chase pretend to be a couple for weeks before the actual dance. In so doing, Chase enters “their world” — the world of high school athletes and cheerleaders — while Nicole dabbles a little in Chase’s life, too.

Obviously, they fall for each other, though not without the standard pitfalls along the journey. We wouldn’t have it any other way: Nicole and Chase are great together, and Hart and Grenier actually have a little chemistry as an onscreen couple. Not for a moment do we hope Nicole actually wins back Brad, a generic Matt Damon-lite clone, nor do we want to see Chase with the repulsive Dulcie again.

In fact, unlike in most movies of this genre, Nicole and Chase hardly even pretend NOT to be falling in love. And maybe that’s what sets this apart and makes it less annoying than the films it’s copying. Instead of being frustrated at these two airheads who can’t seem to realize they’re perfect for each other, we rather enjoy seeing them fall in love.

There’s also, I think, some actual depth — not a lot, but a little — in the film’s message about being accepted. It’s not just about being accepted by “the In Crowd”; it’s about the basic human need for acceptance, period. Some of the minor characters, like Designated Dave (Mark Webber), exemplify this and lend the film some legitimate poignancy. Again, not a lot — but enough to raise this innocuous, semi-amusing, not-too-crude teen comedy to a position slightly above its over-sexed counterparts.

B (; PG-13, teen alcohol and drug use, and for language.)