Jason Petty (Sharron Corley) and Midget (Gabriel Casseus) are teenagers in Newark. Neither one of them is dumb but, as young African-American males living in the inner city, neither one feels that they have much to look forward to in the future. They can’t even walk down the street, without getting hassled by the police. So, they live for the present and that means stealing cars. At first, stealing cars is just something that they do for fun. It’s the challenge that attracts them. However, one night, a cop’s car gets stolen. That cop is a corrupt racist named Roscoe (Saul Stein) and he is soon going out of his way to make Jason and Midget’s life miserable.
New Jersey Drive may sound like an early version of one of the Fast and Furious films (the first F&F came out six years after New Jersey Drive) but, at heart, New Jersey Drive is less about stealing cars and more about a generation of young men who, because they have nothing to look forward to in the future, have no problem taking dangerous and sometimes stupid risks in the present. While Midget is the one who truly loves cars and Jason is the one who is mostly just along for the ride, both characters seem to be aware that it’s only a matter of time before they either get caught or get killed for stealing the wrong car. Today, we would say that Midget and Jason have no respect for authority but can you blame them when the only authority figures that they ever see are racists like Roscoe? The police in New Jersey Drive come across like an invading army, a sea of white faces driving up and down black neighborhoods and searching for people to arrest. For all the cars that Jason and Midget steal, they’re just as likely to get in trouble just for walking down the street.
Sometimes, New Jersey Drive is predictable. In the years immediately following the release of Boyz ‘N the Hood, there were a lot of films about young men growing up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and having to deal with a combination of racist cops and dangerous gangs. New Jersey Drive‘s story hits a lot of the expected beats but there were also some scenes that took me by surprise. When one of the two main car thieve is arrested and incarcerated, the film went off in a different direction than what I was expecting. At first, Jason and Midget seem like stereotypes. Midget is the wild and crazy friend while Jason is the smart one who is always hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” By the end of the film, though, both Midget and Jason have shown some unexpected complexity and they both feel like real people instead of just plot devices in a movie.
Nick Gomez, who has done a lot of television work since the release of this film, does a good job directing New Jersey Drive. The film captures the high that Jason and Midget feel when they successfully steal a car and Gomez also does a good job of capturing the feeling of the world closing in on the two of them as the story unfolds. New Jersey Drive is an underrated piece of work that still has the power to inspire audiences to stay the Hell out of New Jersey.