Category Archives: Action Thriller

Lady Driver bolstered by wonder of dirt-track car racing

Streaming: Netflix

I couldn’t help thinking that if NASCAR made movies like Lady Driver the sport would be cultivating a whole new legion of young fans and drivers. Fortunately, independent film companies like ESX Entertainment and Forrest Films are diving into these inspirational stories. While Lady Driver has its flaws, for the most part the movie is fun family-friendly entertainment. 

The Story

Lady Driver tells the story of an angst-filled teenager, Ellie Lansing (Grace Van Dien). She’s bucking against her mother’s confining parenting in upper-crust Monterrey, California. Ellie is frustrated by her own interests being pushed aside — like getting her driver’s license — for family obligations and the ostracization she experiences at school for being different. Ellie is habitually late; she prefers her time in shop with the gearheads rather than regular academic classes. Fed up, Ellie runs away to search-out her estranged Uncle Tim (Sean Patrick Flanery) in northern California. 

Tim, who is a functional alcoholic, has been shunned by Jessie (Christina Moore). Jessie is rebuilding a life with her second husband (John Ducey), and their daughter (Ellie’s younger stepsister). Unfortunately, the audience is given little information about Ellie and Jessie’s past. We suspect her biological father’s death is implied. While Ellie sees Uncle Tim as an escape, the manner of her father’s death will turn out to be pivotal. 

Tim runs an auto-repair business. He begrudgingly acknowledges Ellie’s natural aptitude toward working on and understanding cars. More importantly, she discovers that Tim is a former race-car driver, like her father. The brothers ranked among the most successful drivers on the northern California dirt-track circuit. When Tim takes her to a track to watch her first race, Ellie is captivated by the sounds and culture. With her uncle’s reluctant support, she sets out to conquer the local dirt track.

The Art

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from several story structure and continuity issues. Ellie’s rebellion against her mother, for example, never quite rises to the level audiences (or parents) will believe she would run away. The stakes simply aren’t high enough. Isolating herself, leaving home to stay with a friend, slamming doors? Definitely. Leaving home to travel hundreds of miles in a beat-up car to stay with an uncle she doesn’t know? Highly unlikely. The dialogue also tends toward the predictable and derivative, relying on unimaginative formulas well trodden by the genre. This tendency is particularly acute when Ellie begins to spar with the good looking, arrogant, older teenage rival on the oval, Buck McReadie (David Gridley). 

The Bottom Line

Fortunately, Lady Driver is saved by an excellent cast, including a top-flight performance by Grace Van Dien. She conveys a wonder and excitement about dirt-track racing that is difficult to convey without actually being on the sidelines and watching the action unfold. (Note: I have attended several stock-car races and can attest to the thrill.) Solid editing keeps the film at a fast clip during the race sequences. The movie benefits from the experience of a bevy of acting veterans, including Flanery, Moore, Amanda Detmer (as Tim’s friend, Loretta), and Casper Van Dien (as Ellie’s father in flashbacks). 

I also greatly appreciated the focus on dirt-track racing rather than asphalt and pavement tracks. Dirt tracks are more common on the local and regional circuits. They are an unheralded but critical cog in race culture and a stepping stone toward national circuits. While NASCAR’s major series — Cup, Truck, and Xfinity — get the most press, the local tracks are the ones where the stars are born. Dirt-track racing, as Lady Driver shows, has a style, technique, and set of skills unique to its own, well suited for fans and drivers learning the ropes. 

In Conclusion

Overall, Lady Driver is an enjoyable, low-stakes movie fitting for a family friendly audience. With any luck, a new crop of young women might be inspired to take to the oval through Lady Driver or other movies like it. We need a few more to give the old boys club a real run for the checkered flag.

The Rhythm Section carried by strong performance from Blake Lively

Venue: Amazon Prime

The Rhythm Section aspires to be part of a new wave of thriller movies. Unfortunately, the movie falters despite having good “bones.” The film simply doesn’t find its footing as an action movie despite plenty of opportunities in tense relationships, unexpected plot points, and excellent acting. 

The story focuses on Stephanie (Blake Lively), a college-age woman whose entire immediate family is killed when their plane explodes. Stephanie missed the flight, and survivor’s guilt plunges her into a world of drug addiction and prostitution. When a freelance journalist (Raza Jaffrey) contacts her, she learns that the flight was a terrorist target. Her parents, brother, and sister were just “collateral damage.” 

As Stephanie learns more about the facts behind their deaths, revenge consumers her. When her journalist contact is killed, she tracks down Ian (Jude Law), a discredited MI6 agent living in Scotland. Despite misgivings, Ian is impressed by Stephanie’s grit and trains her to be an assassin. They commit to tracking down all the terrorists associated with the plane crash. Stephanie commits to “killing them all.” Violently. 

The movie is well produced. Fitting with the genre, the movie globe trots, touching down in places such as Scotland, London, Madrid, Tangier (Morocco), New York City, and Marseilles (France). Blake Lively provides depth in her role as Stephanie as she climbs from the London underworld to become a trained assassin. A fine cast that includes Sterling K. Brown as a “retired” CIA agent facilitates the intrigue as Stephanie tracks down each element of the terrorist plot. 

Still, The Rhythm Section falls flat. The time put into Stephanie’s inner turmoil is time taken away from the action of the film. For most viewers, Ian’s decision to take Stephanie — an underweight drug addict with a slight, unathletic build — under his wing will be a mystery. Indeed, Stephanie continually puts herself in jeopardy through missteps and hesitation, making her close escapes from what should be certain death formulaic plot points.

Nevertheless, a strong performance from Blake Lively carries the movie. Even though the movie misses an opportunity to redefine its genre, The Rhythm Section provides mild entertainment to those looking for a way to pass the time on a lazy weekend.