One's teenage years are usually defined by a number of things: falling in love, doing stupid things and learning to drive. 'License To Drive' covers all of these things.
Les (Corey Haim) is your average sixteen year old boy. He is eager to get his license and to grow up. This might also help his chances with the girl of his dream, Mercedes (Heather Graham).
Despite getting too many questions wrong, he passes his road test thanks to a computer surge and some extremely faulty logic on the part of the Department of Motor Vehicles. This joy is short-lived as the test results are eventually retrieved and Les' license is torn up.
What boy would let that stop him from following through on his plans to take out a pretty girl? Les secretly borrows his grandfather's beloved Cadillac. Oh boy.
Helping Les with this plan is Dean (Corey Feldman) and Charles (Michael Manasseri).
Since, to varying degrees, most of us can relate to the first half of the film, it is the more effective half. Some exaggerations aren't enough to disguise the fact that there is a shared sense of excitement and anxiety over the driver's test. The ability to drive is a rite of passage that affords the young person a new world of freedom. Terror and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of this goal are a fine element to a story.
The film succeeds during a few sequences that show worst case scenarios and/or unlikely, yet amazing, experiences behind the wheel. The DMV can certainly be a nightmare (though in one scene, they are inexplicably generous) and there is some fun exploring just how rough they can be. Another observation is how overly serious and self-important most driver training instructors can be (ever notice that?) in schools. Safety behind the wheel is vital for everyone's good, but those simulators were never that true to life. Take it easy.
We encounter problems when certain details are presented. An unattainable girl? That's alright. A convoluted story about switching cars and being in charge of grandpa's priceless Cadillac? This can only end in one way. There isn't really a climax as the plot is extremely threadbare. A few feeble excuses are offered to get some inexperienced (and unlicensed) drivers behind the wheel of a car and create some tension. It all amounts to a kid wanting to drive, him being in no position to actually drive, he wants to impress a girl who is clearly out of his league, some stuff happens, and he hopes that he doesn't get in trouble. At least Ferris Beuhler SPELLING made skipping school fun. The group of friends don't really learn anything together and it isn't clever. Is someone driving high speed backward supposed to be cool? Woah, that really raises the degree of difficulty! How predictable.
The romance between Les and Mercedes feels like it takes a serious backseat (pun!) to the boy's love of the idea of driving. That's alright, but how to get her character out of the picture long enough to focus on that? Oh yeah, get her drunk and stuff her in the trunk. That solves that problem.
It's strange that people seem to remember this film as being a Haim-Feldman movie. The former is clearly the star of the picture with the latter mostly providing late-game assistance. That is the joy of effective marketing, I suppose. This is Graham's big debut and she does about as well as you would expect. Les' parents are amusing even if they are a bit unrealistically lenient and passive at times.
Special features include: interviews, commentary, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots.
'License To Drive' may have been passable entertainment when it first came out, but it hasn't held up well. Other teen comedies from the era have stood the test of time because they are funny or well-written or had some inimitable scenes. This has none of those fine things and simply feels like some executive's bright idea to reunite the Coreys from 'The Lost Boys' and see what happens.
Now, it exists best as a curiosity for those who want to see what Haim plus Feldman would equal.
Rated PG-13 88 minutes 1988