Various movie studios and Blu-ray distributors have been dipping more and more into catalog films theatrically released, or re-released, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For me, it's been fascinating to revisit and critique movies like 'The Rocketeer', 'Dead Poets Society', and 'Lady and the Tramp' through fresher eyes. Movies are inherently emotional experiences, so I often ask myself if it's possible to shuck off nostalgia. Plenty of films work great for us as kids, but less so as adults; others leave us cold as children but we grow to enjoy them. Are we destined to forgive movies that were never very good, or be extra disappointed when we realize they're only mediocre rather than the best thing ever? Or to put it another way, what type of expectations do we bring to childhood favorites, where our present-selves may ultimately align or conflict with the memory of seeing those movies for the first time on the small or big screen?
In the summer of 1988, I begged my grandparents to take me to 'License to Drive'. I loved cars and after 'Lucas,' 'The Goonies,' 'Silver Bullet', 'Stand By Me,' and 'The Lost Boys' the Two Coreys (Haim and Feldman) were the biggest stars in my young eyes. I don't think there's anything more exciting to an 8 year old than the idea of becoming a grown up, which at that time means becoming a teenager with… a license to drive.
Also, every time I got to hear someone swear in a movie, that was pretty fu-er...freakin' sweet too.
'License to Drive' is about Les Anderson (Haim), an average young guy who dreams of getting his license so he can finally be a man in the eyes of beautiful, unapproachable girls like Mercedes Lane(Heather Graham). Les is tired of rides to school on the bus he always misses, or on the bike handlebars of his best friend, Dean (Feldman), or from his embarrassing parents. But everything's going to be fine. Les' driver's test is in a couple of days, and pretty soon he'll be a free man. He might even be able to convince his parents to get him a BMW. And Mercedes just asked him out on a date. Life is going to change in a big, big way.
Then Les flunks the written exam and, though he's given a brief respite when there's a computer error which allows him to take and pass his road test, lies to his parent about it. When they find out, Les is grounded. No car. No date with the dream girl. Simply put, Les' life is over.
Until Mercedes calls and Les steals his Grandfather's Cadillac to take her out. There's no way anything bad will happen, right? You bet it will, in a series of escalating comedic adventures that take Les, Mercedes, and Dean on the wildest ride of their young lives. As long as nothing happens to the car, Mom and Dad will never know. What could go wrong?
'License to Drive' is a fun, energetic comedy that, despite cultural and technological changes over the last 24 years, holds up surprisingly well today, especially if you're a fan of Haim, Feldman, or any of the familiar '80s faces. The movie's light tone is grounded in a youthful desire for freedom and growing up, but shows the consequences of what can happen when we step into the adult world. The comedy and action set pieces are well staged, and the film is quickly paced and really well structured (as written by Neil Tolkin and directed by Greg Beeman). It looks as though everyone making the film is having a wonderful time, a feeling that translates to the screen. This is a movie that could have been paint-by-the-numbers, but all the elements here blend seamlessly.
While watching this film, it's hard not to smile, really, for many reasons. For the fun they're all having. For the way the jokes are set up and paid off. For the memories of seeing this movie for the first time or of a time when all you wanted was your own license. For the '80s nostalgia (if that's something you ever experience). For the time you snuck out of the house to meet a girl. For the days when you were grounded and thought you'd never grow up.
'License to Drive' was great to revisit, and I don't necessarily think it's solely based in the emotions and memories it triggered, though it's hard to divest from one's own subconscious. It's a genuinely successful film that stands out above many other forgotten 80s comedies because of its charming young stars in the prime of their careers. I suppose, in addition to conjuring positive memories, the film could be viewed with a tinge of sadness as well, given Corey Haim's tragic death. Here he is captured on film with a bright, open, and never-ending future. In one way or another, we've all felt invincible at one point in our lives, and though he's gone, this film captures that spirit perfectly.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay / 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release of 'License to Drive' features a single 25GB BD, Region A locked disc housed in a blue eco-case.
'License to Drive' debuts onto Blu-ray with a shiny, dirt free AVC MPEG-4 encoding, framed in its original theatrical aspect ration of 1.85:1.
Most films from this era are flatter and softer than modern movies on Blu-ray and 'License to Drive' continues that trend. However, for a film of this age, it looks pretty darn good. It's no surprise that exterior locations look terrific -- highlighted by suburbia's green tree-lined streets and the blue Cadillac -- but half of the film is set over the course of one night, and it shines here too. The scene where they go to the drive-in diner is a treat thanks to all the bright neon. I figured the darker scenes would be noisy, but they everything is well lit with a nice contrast and decent black levels. Lastly, it might be stuffed onto a 25GB disc, but when you see the detail of the explosion in the film's opening sequence, you instantly know it's a solid encode.
Is this title going to win any awards? No, but it looks better than expected (especially when considering the resolution of trailer and the Blu-ray's box art).
Much like the recent 'Dead Poets Society', the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD 'License to Drive' track is more of an expanded stereo experience. That is to say it's pretty good for its age and era, but it's not going to wow anyone. Dialog is crystal clear and prioritized. Music and effects are full and there's some stereo panning, but nothing aggressive. LFE is a touch light, as evidenced in the opening sequence explosion and a few of the other crash sequences.
Pretty light over all. The only two special features on the Blu-ray are the film's original theatrical trailer and a short '80s-era EPK entitled 'The Making of License to Drive'. It's nice to see the trailer that originally convinced me to see the film, but the source quality is terrible. And the EPK is more of an extended trailer with everyone fawning over the Two Coreys. It's cool to see the period marketing effort, but there's nothing in depth here.
'License to Drive' proves, for me at least, that some childhood movie experiences don’t grow old. Thanks to its charming stars, the film remains funny and action-packed, despite a few dated elements. As a Blu-ray, no one is going to be blown away by the picture, audio, or special features, but the PQ and AQ are definitely solid and are most likely the best this film has looked since its original theatrical release. Recommended to Two Coreys fans and children of the '80s. To everyone else, give it a rent first, and try to remember how nervous you were taking your driver's test.