Driven (2001)

DRIVEN is a perfectly serviceable (if slightly overlong) Formula 
One-style racing pic; a loud, lots-going-on, brightly colored "B" 
movie, which means plot, performance, dialogue, et al, is earnest, 
entertaining, and maybe a little awful.  Renny Harlin (THE DEEP BLUE 
SEA) directs with more ADHD flair than ever-- no shot lasting longer 
than ten seconds and even the *dialogue* scenes so quickly cut that
they're more like *montages* of conversing actors.  Trackside, the 
everywhere-at-once camera serves up an embarrassment of behind-the-
scenes riches, from those cool digital readouts on the steering whe-
els to one *Hell* of a breathtaking, big-screen, end-over-end-flip-
ping car wreck.  (Shown in show-motion, of course.)  The racing se-
quences notably employ "helmet cams" for some exciting, first-person 
footage.  Regrettably, *none* of the varoom! varoom! scenes possess 
the breathless momentum and sustained excitement of, say, the great 
"El" chase from THE FRENCH CONNECTION.  Or all those cops cars chas-
ing THE BLUES BROTHERS.  (Though a nifty night-race through downtown 
Chicago-- complete with long-legged panty peek of a blown-by pedes-
trian-- rates pretty high.  Gotta love those parked trailers, too.)

Happily, the barreling-forward film is never self-serious.  That is, 
beyond the inherent, overacted, power-ballad-on-the-soundtrack melo-
drama that's *already* there.  The surprisingly character-driven 
(ha!) plot involves a young upstart-under-pressure (Kip Pardue), his 
hothead, European-accented rival (German actor/director Til Schweig-
er), and the seasoned, old pro (Sylvester Stallone) called in to 
help.  (Said call from another seasoned, old pro-turned-paraplegic 
owner played by Burt Reynolds.)  Plus the various wives, ex-wives, 
and girlfriends who figger into everywhere.  (And who occasionally 
intersect, like a memorably catty ladies-room encounter between Gena 
Gershon and Stacy Edwards.)  Stallone, an Academy Award-nominated 
screenwriter lest we forget, also penned the tale of this non-don-
key, from a story credited to two others and that features a nice 
under-emphasis on *his* character.  

What's missing from this one is enough cheekiness.  There are too 
few audience winks, like Edwards' character researching an article 
on "male domination in the sports world."  Or the race announcers 
incessant restating of the obvious.  As for the endless female pa-
rade of tight tops, tighter bottoms, and perpetually pouty lips, 
it's seems more a target-audience thing than anything else.  Same 
for the smothering number of product plugs, which is probably bud-
get-related.  (It's gotta cost *millions* to stage those packed-
stadium shoots.)  One superfluous screen image is admittedly unfor-
gettable: a long, cool, blonde eating a foot-long cinnamon stick.  
How *did* the camera-person keep from falling over?  And there's a 
nice, gritted-teeth confrontation between Sly and Burt, their vet-
eran, long-past-their-prime characters barking across a scorched car 
caress, debating the wins, losses, and lasting damages inherent to 
their profession.  That the *actors* are also vets long past their 
prime makes the sequence even more compelling.

Later, as if responding to the potential for perceived monotony, 
Harlin stages one race in the rain, which, in turn, leads to the in-
evitable viewer question:  do they *really* race when it's wet?  
(Not to mention the effect of seeing what the drivers see:  giant, 
presumably computer-generated raindrops which, in turn, make Belt-
line driving seem even *less* scary during your run-of-the-mill 
blinding rainstorm.)  This "wet race," occurring late in the film, 
also features of the Mother of All Wipe-Outs(tm).  A secondary char-
acter's car collides with something, bursts into flames, goes air-
borne, and lands upside down in a stream.  It's the most exciting 
moment in the movie, both for the vehicular stunt and the testoster-
one-soaked, brotherhood-of-man response from the rival drivers-turn-
ed-rescuers.  You'll either cheer or laugh.  (And judging by the *A-
merican* brand of firefighting crash truck used by the "German Grand 
Prix," I'd wager said sequence was filmed "over here.")

Ultimately, the whole thing feels about 20 minutes too long.  Part 
of the problem is the aforementioned wreck 'n' rescue, which results 
in a proverbial early-blown load.  Everything else, then, feels like 
an afterthought, such as unnecessary eleventh-hour complication for 
Robert Sean Leonard's character.  (He plays manager and brother to 
Pardue's character.)  And there's a big-finish championship race 
that plays more dutiful than climatic.  We *do* get a couple more 
crashes-- all bloodless, BTW-- as well as the bulk of the film's CGI 
enchantments.  (Nope, the computer-created effects *still* ain't re-
alistic-looking enough.  'Specially a grandstand-striking tire that 
*Charlotte* viewers ain't gonna appreciate seeing.)  But everyone 
ultimately wins in the end, the story sending the characters off on 
a high note, crowd roaring, champagne flowing, and the First, Sec-
ond, and Third Place trophies in high-held hand.  Here's your blurb:  
"It's like TOP GUN with wheels!"  (Rated "PG-13"/117 min.)
Grade: B-

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros