'Drive Like Lightning' never quite gets its engine started

January 08, 1992|By Rick Kogan | Rick Kogan,Chicago Tribune

I've got to hand it, reluctantly, to a movie that is able to make me wistful for the artistry of that famous stuntman Evel Knievel.

"Drive Like Lightning" (9 tonight on USA cable) takes its dramatic narrative through that long -- but perhaps understandably -- neglected subculture of daredevil automobile drivers.

The stunt driver of most concern is Charlie Webster (Steven Bauer), a one-time hotshot who gave up the vrooom-vrooom life after his brother suffered a paralyzing crash. Charlie breaks out of his fog when asked to drive the car of former rival to Los Angeles. The car, called The Weevil, is inside the truck Charlie is to drive, and the journey should be an easy one. But Charlie picks up a hitchhiker, Ginger (Cynthia Gibb), and they soon find themselves on a rarely traveled back road. That's where the truck radiator hose breaks, necessitating a ride to the nearest town in The Weevil and a run-in with a small-town sheriff.

From this point, the film features a series of cops-and-daredevil chases, interrupted by a moonlight tryst between Charlie and Ginger and an idyllic interlude at the ranch of Ginger's family.

I hope Knievel doesn't watch. As loony as he could be, he gave us more showmanship in his costumes than this film can muster.

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