New Jersey Drive: Neil Gomez’s Tale of Black Teenagers in Newark, New Jersey

Nick Gomez’s second effort, New Jersey Drive, is also hyper-realistic in its depiction of black teenagers in Newark who jack cars for kicks. Focusing on the personal odyssey of one youngster, the film takes a hard look at the criminal justice system–the courts, probation officers, social workers, and even police.

As an evocation of black youth, stuck living in a combat zone, New Jersey Drive is vibrant. Gomez creates a vivid portrait of street culture, but the film lacks a discernible point of view to make it more poignant dramatically.

The project began when Spike Lee asked Gomez to make a film for Universal. It was budgeted at $8 million, quite a jump from the minuscule budget of Laws of Gravity. But, according to Gomez, Universal didn’t like things that were “germane” to the story, pushing instead the “more obvious action moments.”

There was a lot of talk about “narrative signposts”–and subsequently the budget was cut to $5 million. In retrospect, Gomez thinks he should have pulled out, but he had already spent months working on the script and was reluctant to start all over again at another company. Gomez felt he didn’t have a sufficient budget for the endless car chases envisioned by him.

Gomez thus found himself caught in the perverse logic of American filmmaking: New directors tangled-up in big-budget projects which prevent them from making the kind of personal movies that caused them to be noticed in the first place.