[Review] Over Drive

Not to be confused with the Hollywood film with the same name, which also happens to feature fast cars and a pair of brothers, Over Drive is Japan’s entry into the fast-paced rally car racing world. Billed as a ‘brother’s challenge’, the film focuses on a pair of brothers – Atsuhiro (Masahiro Higashide) and his younger brother, Naozumi (Mackenyu Arata) – whose relationship centres around the world of rally cars and sibling tension.

Atsuhiro is the chief mechanic, and Naozumi is the ace driver for Spica Racing Factory – a top team in the fictional Seiko Cup Rally Series, a platform for young drivers to progress onto the real-life World Rally Championship (WRC). The plot seems simple: fearless driver Naozumi has to win the Series and beat his cool-headed rival Akira (Takumi Kitamura) of the Sigma team in order to progress to the WRC.

The movie toggles between fast-paced driving action and dreamy flashbacks which reveal the reason for the huge discord between the once-close brothers: a girl named Hina.

Along the way, we also get to see Hikaru (Aoi Morikawa), Naozumi’s new agent – and a newbie to rally racing – who’s roped in to manage his erratic behavior and struggles to be accepted as a female member of their team. The spotlight is also cast on another Spica team member – mechanic Junpei (pretty boy Keita Machida of boyband Gekidan Exile) – as he questions the relentless tasks he is assigned.

The movie yo-yos in emotional drama just like driver rankings in an actual rally, but the slower pacing is balanced with slick racing scenes, courtesy of actual rally cars and drivers of the WRC. Part of the visual draw of the movie lies in the filming locations spread throughout Japan: we see cars zooming and drifting around tight corners at landmarks like Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge and Shirakawago’s thatched-roof houses, spewing clouds of dust at every turn.

The only complaint is its overemphasis on certain 80s-style tropes – whenever Atsuhiro feels conflicted, he looks at his hands a lot more than he should, and we see plenty of exaggerated montages of Naozumi working out at the gym. Not that we mind, as Mackenyu (who we last saw in Pacific Rim Uprising) shows off his perfectly-sculpted body at every opportunity.

With lots of driving action and eye candy, one could almost forgive the film for not giving enough closure to both Hikaru and Junpei – it’s a pity that despite their screentime and character development, they didn’t manage to contribute anything to the team at the end.

Perhaps it has something to do with the film’s runtime – at just 104 minutes, it feels just long enough to be entertaining, and long enough to express its one simple message: never give up.