Movie Review: “First Date” (2021)

Way back in 1988, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince made sure that all teens knew the importance of not cruising around the neighborhood in a car that they shouldn’t be driving. Assuredly, this was not the first example of such advice being. One further assumes that the advice has come up again (more than once) since. However many attempts may have been made to make the situation clear, Mike, the lead character in the new film “First Date,” did not get the message.

Yes, this new movie written, directed, and produced by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, features a high schooler just trying to make a good impression on a girl, thinking he needs a car to do it, and winding up in a whole lot of trouble. To be sure, Mike’s trouble are not the exact same ones that Will Smith faces in “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” but, just as in that tale, the police do get involved.

Played by Tyson Brown, Mike is a quiet, unassuming, sort of kid. He’s shy; too shy to ask out Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) on whom he has a huge crush. Pushed into it by his friend, Brett (Josh Fesler), Mike gets a date and only then remembers that his parents are taking the car to Vegas the same day. Thus begins an incredibly long adventure for our hero, one in which… nope, sorry, I would tell you more about what happens, but you wouldn’t believe me. I will say however that it involves drugs and killings and a trip to Lovers’ Lane and Steinbeck’s classic novella, “Of Mice and Men.”

The impressive thing about “First Date” is that it crams all that stuff into a single film that, no matter how off the wall any of it seems, kind of holds together via its own internal logic. That logic, a little bit, crumples upon examination, but there’s a valiant attempt made to get away with it. So, Mike randomly runs into a couple who, decades ago, owned the ’65 Chrysler he’s purchased and they offer him money to allow them to drive it and he accepts the cash. The incredibly unlikely nature of that happening quickly slips by the wayside and it kind of makes sense as it’s all playing out (and as Mike doesn’t question the odds of bumping into these folks). Or, maybe more accurately, it’s at least no stranger than anything that comes before or after – we’ve been primed to accept such occurrences by everything else in the movie.

Sort of a romance, kind of a comedy, and definitely rather violent, “First Date” is a movie that revels in its rough edges. Although it may take place on a scale more grand than “Clerks” and generally deal with different things, the affair, including portions of the dialogue, has a definite early Kevin Smith feel to it. One can almost hear Randal Graves in some of the lines characters’ utter. There are pop culture references dropped in, and even if not all of the filmmaking seems assured, the back and forths between the characters do.

Any attempt I make to summarize “First Date” has to include the word “bizarre,” because the movie is completely bizarre. It is not merely the diverse assortment of characters between the teenagers, the cops, the drug couriers, the guy who sells the car to Mike in the first place, and any of the other random folks, it is the entire construction of the affair (see above re: meeting the couple that used to own the car back in the day). Brown is engaging as Mike, this unlucky kid who, in order to impress a girl, does one incredibly stupid thing which leads him down a road of incredibly stupid things, always just trying to make it right.

But, is it good? Is it interesting? Is it fun?

It is, but mostly in fits and spurts. It is definitely a movie that asks you to be in the right frame of mind to watch it. Largely, that frame of mind is one where you understand exactly how a teenage Will Smith might end up thinking it is okay to take the keys to his mom’s new Porsche and pick up girls in it when his parents are out of town for the weekend. You don’t necessarily need to believe that Smith’s parents should be accepting of the choice, but you do have to get where the Fresh Prince is coming from earnestly telling us, even after the fact, that parents just don’t understand.

photo credit: Magnet Releasing

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