Running on empty
In all honesty, Driven, which reunites Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone, is probably the best movie about auto racing ever made. But that’s not saying much when your competition is Days of Thunder.
Diehard racing fans will probably find themselves wishing they had opted for an afternoon taking in the real thing on Fox instead of enduring mediocre race sequences interrupted by the same cliched love crap that derails so many a film nowadays. It also doesn’t help that Sly is principally a supporting character here, and speaking as a Stallone junkie, I want him first and foremost in any film that boasts him as the main star. He’s a stinking subplot here, and his fans will find themselves sifting through general garbage to get at his moments.
Of course, Sly can be blamed for this, because he wrote the shoddy screenplay. The story focuses on a young hotshot driver named Jimmy Bly (drab stud-boy Kip Pardue), who’s challenging the current racing champ Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger) for the world racing title and his girlfriend (Estella Warren). There is just as much time spent on the dopey love triangle as there is on racetrack antics, and the movie skids off the track and into the wall any time the focus switches to affairs of the heart.
Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a past-his-prime racecar driver brought in by Jimmy Bly’s team owner (an atrocious Burt Reynolds—we’ll get to him later) to provide psychological and race track support to the struggling young star. Stallone’s part consists of him mostly trying to have conversations with Bly and getting turned away, forcing him to sport an “aw, shucks” expression for nearly half his screen time.
There are plenty of supporting characters to choke at in Driven. Gina Gershon, the only thing watchable in Showgirls, is humiliated in the role of Sly’s ex-wife, the movie’s requisite “bitch” character. I’ve enjoyed Gershon in the past, but she is now the official victim of hardcore typecasting, and this is her most cardboard character to date. Robert Sean Leonard is grating as Jimmy Bly’s brother/manager, the character you just know will be punched in the face during the film’s climatic scenes.
Worst of all is Burt Reynolds as Carl Henry, riding around in a wheelchair and overacting on a level that is remarkable, even by his standards. One particular scene, where he loses it while confronting Stallone, is so overwrought that he had me convinced a neck artery was going to give and splatter the camera with Burt blood. (Actually, that would’ve been the coolest thing in the movie.)
Director Harlin provides some OK racing sequences, but he really needs to find a new special effects production company. Sub-standard computer animation slowed down his otherwise fun shark saga Deep Blue Sea, and the special effects actually get worse this time out. Especially awful is a moment where a computer-animated wheel disengages from a crashed car and floats through the air into the spectators’ stands. Any sense of realism is destroyed when the proceedings look like a mid-'80s video game.
Most depressing is the notion that Stallone employed the plotline of an aging driver coming out of retirement to coach a young up-and-comer in need. This employs elements of both Rocky V and his proposed but stalled Rocky VI.
Yes, I was holding out for Rocky VI, where Stallone looked to bring Balboa out of retirement for one last hurrah, and the existence of Driven seems to put a pall on prospects of that ever happening. When a film has you longing for Rocky VI, you know there is something dreadfully wrong.