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Move into top gear

DRIVE Thriller. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Cert 18

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn came to the attention of film fans in this part of the world with his 2008 movie Bronson, which featured a bravura performance from Tom Hardy as Britain's most violent prisoner, before moving on to Valhalla Rising, in which Mads Mikkelsen was knee-deep in gore as a Viking on a revenge quest.

As Refn is clearly adept at depicting men capable of inflicting and indeed absorbing pain and suffering, for the first half of Drive you'll be wondering why this movie has an 18 rating. And then, out of the blue, the movie shifts gear and the squeamish among you may wish you'd gone to see a fluffy rom-com instead.

At the core of Drive is a compelling central performance from Ryan Gosling, playing an unnamed movie stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver.

On the surface there are similarities to Walter Hill's 1978 thriller The Driver, which featured Ryan O'Neal as an unnamed getaway man, but Gosling's wheelman is a different and more complicated beast altogether.

Barely saying a word, Gosling leaves us to imagine what might be lurking beneath a dangerously calm exterior and lets little chinks of light through when he becomes attached to his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos).

The developing relationship between the distant driver and the mother and son recalls Shane. Irene's husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail and, under pressure from gangsters, is forced to attempt a robbery to protect his family.

Concerned for Irene and the boy, the driver offers his services only to discover that the whole thing is a set-up and he's in far more danger than he could possibly have imagined.

Refn and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel, give Drive a fabulous look -- their feel for Los Angeles at night would surely bring a smile to Michael Mann -- and the use of a prominent synth score adds to the neo-noir atmosphere. There's plenty of quality in the supporting cast, with Bryan Cranston convincing as the driver's would-be mentor Shannon, and Albert Brooks is excellent as Shannon's shadowy sometime backer.

Carey Mulligan's role is underwritten but she acquits herself more than admirably, especially given the intensity and danger Gosling radiates opposite her.

With some fine car chases and a fabulous pre-title sequence which establishes the mood of the movie, Drive is an excellent thriller, but one which should be approached with caution by anyone with an aversion to extreme violence. HHHHI

CRAZY STUPID LOVE Romantic drama/comedy. Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Bobo. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. cert 15A

If you're going to the movies this week, please make sure that you end up at the right Ryan Gosling movie, as anyone who accidentally ends up at Drive expecting a fluffy rom-com is in for a very rude awakening. Gosling's versatility as an actor is evident in the way he handles his part here as Jacob, his portrayal of a smooth-talking Lothario equally as convincing as the unknowable wheelman of Drive.

Gosling's role is pivotal to the story, as Cal (Steve Carell) is separating from his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), after she has had a fling with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon) and is moping about in a local bar/nightclub feeling sorry for himself.

For no particular reason other than to further the plot, Jacob takes pity on Cal, helps him to smarten up his appearance and tries to teach him some smooth moves in order to improve his chances with the ladies.

Steve Carell's hangdog look makes him a perfect fit for Cal, a likeable if slightly dull ordinary Joe who tries to embrace his new-found unwanted freedom but really just wants to get back to his wife and kids. When he and Gosling are together there's a genuine spark and fizz to proceedings and he's equally believable in his scenes with Moore. But the problem with Crazy Stupid Love isn't anything to do with it being predictable, but rather that there's too much going on.

Apart from Cal trying to get back with Emily while having a brief fling with a crazy schoolteacher (Marisa Tomei), we also have Emily's affair with her colleague, while Jacob appears to be prepared to forego his rampant womanising when he's smitten by Hannah (Emma Stone, leaving you wishing the directors had made more of her part).

And as if that wasn't enough to be going on with, there's also a storyline about a teenage babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), who has a crush on Cal but is the object of desire for his 12-year-old son Robbie (Johan Bobo).

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa showed with I Love You, Philip Morris that they have a feel for comedy, but here there's too much going on to make a convincing movie, with the plot strands being shoehorned together in a finale that's both manic and mawkish. HHHII