License to Drive: Special Edition (1988)

“Haim is genius here.” you might call Greg Beeman’s assessment one of the year’s most unlikely statements. The director of that second of the big three Coreysploitation movies of the 1980s, License to Drive (with The Lost Boys [1987] and the underrated Dream a Little Dream [1989]). While Beeman’s observation, made for the DVD commentary, might seem comical (he makes it as Haim skids in his Nikes over to Heather Graham in a red sports car), his enthusiasm for the film and his sincerity when discussing his Haim and his fellow Corey (Feldman) are always evident.

This packed DVD is the latest example of Anchor Bay’s greatness in resurrecting forgotten flicks of cinema’s zaniest decade. Thanks to Anchor Bay, 18 Again! (1988) and From the Hip (1987) get the straightforward DVD treatment, while Soul Man (1986) and The Boys Next Door (1986) manage a special feature or two. License to Drive, on the other hand, offers a veritable extravaganza, with Beeman’s commentary (also featuring writer Neil Tolkin), interviews with Coreys Haim and Feldman, a 13-minute deleted sequence, a fact-filled booklet, and a CD-ROM screenplay.

The film is just silly and cool enough to warrant such a package. It’s a typical teenage set-up — kid fakes having a cool car to get a date with a hot chick. The kid in the case is Les, played by Haim, who’ll do just about anything to take out super-hot Mercedes (Graham). It starts out so well for Les. He scores the magical date only to fail his driving test on the same day, thus needing not only to lie to everyone around him that he did in fact pass, but to steal the only car available to him — his grandfather’s classic Cadillac — in order to keep the date. The night passes without a hitch until Mercedes decides to get rip-roaring drunk and dance atop the Caddie, denting the hood. Les enlists buddies Dean (Feldman) and Charles (Michael Manasseri) to help him fix the car only to end up chauffeuring them around various parts of LA while attempting to sober up his date and have a halfway decent time in his first night as a driver, albeit an unlicensed one.

So it’s not Casablanca, but it does have its moments. The script is hilarious at times, with some excellent interaction between Les and his doting parents, played by Richard Masur and Carol Kane. The Coreys are perfect in roles tailor-made for them, with Haim’s Les a jittery, paranoid, desperate-to-please kid, and Feldman’s Dean just a wild and crazy guy who knows how to get what he wants from Les. Neither Tolkin nor Beeman has a bad word to say about the stars, even when they discuss points when neither Corey was up to his game. “If ever we do, in this movie, see bags under Corey Haim’s eyes,” Beeman tells Tolkin when the writer points out the lack of continuity concerning Haim’s sleepy face in a particular scene, “I’ll tell you right now, it’s because he went home every night and studied his lines.” They are, of course, referring to the actor’s now well-known drug use.

Beeman and Tolkin plainly still love the film, even with its flaws (both admit they’d rethink the amount of drinking and driving that goes on). Beeman has a nice story about every actor in sight — including Grant Goodeve and James Avery, Helen Hanft, R.A. Mihailoff, and Christina Cocek — crediting them with making his first major directing job so enjoyable. He and Tolkin have no illusions about the film’s quality or its place in history. Neither does Feldman, who notes in an interview, “This movie was made during the haze of the ’80s, not my brightest moment in history; this was kind of as the bulb was dimming.” On not getting the lead in the film, he recalls, hands tossed in the air in faux disgust, “Fuck ’em! I’m getting out of the business!” And he is upfront about his past misdeeds, at one point wishing he had taken the film a little more seriously, instead of spending so much time during filming “half-cracked.”

Haim, though, doesn’t fair so well, recounting specific moments that say little about the production (the party scene was a filmed at a real party, he did his own parallel parking, etc). As for the one thing he’d change about his work on the film — it’s his frequently open mouth. It’s a little embarrassing that he feels the need to mention this, especially with such sincerity. Tolkin knows better, observing of the mouth, “No, that was his thing.” It totally was. Girls who rented Haim’s back catalogue at sleepovers loved it. Trust me.