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IN SHORT: Forget story. Wait for the crashes. Everybody go "ooo". [Rated PG-13 for language and some intense crash sequences. 115 minutes]
About the only thing missing from Renny Harlin's Driven is the kitchen sink. His last project with Sylvester Stallone, Cliffhanger, was downright simple compared to this year's offering. Half a dozen characters all interconnected in ways that are almost emotionally incestuous; a nonstop soundtrack that overwhelms any story point the film is trying to make and accident effects up the wazoo.
Let's try to make some sense of this: 20 races span the globe in the CART racing season. Top dog of the heap is a German driver Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) who is being challenged by new kid on the block Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue). Bly's challenge is so strong that it puts Brandenburg's relationship with blonde beauty Sophia (Estella Warren). So far so good.
If I follow this correctly, the circuit is made up of a number of "teams"(each with two drivers and one backup) that race against each other, though only one driver will amass enough overall points (based on where they finish in each race) to attain the championship. The owner of the team that Jimmy Bly races for, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) calls in a retired vet, Joe "The Hummer" Tanto (Stallone) to help stabilize the newcomer. Doing so means dropping his secondary driver, Memo Moreno (Cristian de la Fuente) into the backup slot.
Don't ask us who got dumped in return. Things get tough enough from here on in. Take a deep breath: Moreno's demotion pisses off his wife Cathy (Gina Gershon) who, coincidentally, also happens to be The Hummer's ex-wife. With all the vindictiveness that she can muster, Cathy aims to set journalist Lucretia "Luke" Jones (Stacey Edwards) strait on the man she's giving eyes to. And Bly is hitting on Sophia, who "just wants to be friends," which means it's going to wind up exactly where you think it's going to, and all of it takes place in front of Brandenburg's face.
No one plays bitch better than Gershon but both she and her "husband" are a tiresome addendum to the rest of the story. And we forgot Bly's older brother (Robert Sean Leonard), also his manager, making deals and pushing him face first into the maws of the publicity machine. Leonard screams his performance from the first line of dialog and just ups the decibel level from there. Constant yelling gets in the way when a character wants to shift emotional gears from support to confrontation.
The funny part is, Stallone's character wants to teach Bly tat the most important part of being a race driver, and to staying alive as such, is to maintain "a quiet space" where everything else is locked out. Driven, with its nonstop underscore of songs desperately needs such a quiet space somewhere in the first two thirds of its playing time. By the time one finally rears its head, we had ceased to care about any of the characters, if we ever had the ability to empathize at all. Harlin's edit is frenetic, usually a sign of a really bad script (think a 195 mph chase through the nighttime crowded streets of Chicago and say goodnight Gracie), and that he managed to keep our attention is a tip of the hat to the visual effects team.
Let's face it, folks. There's a real thrill in watching little cars zoom around a big track at hundreds of miles per hour, inches apart. And everyone wants to see a big crash, though I doubt we ever truly consider the possible consequences (may Dale Earnhardt rest in peace). Driven, which jumps all over the world and stages half a dozen or so races, is packed with 'em. Each gets better than the last. Even when the visual gets arty -- as in look at me I'm beautifully CGI'd -- the "ooo factor" overrides any criticism that can be made.
And it's a really big "ooo factor". When a race car's safety features include self-destruction, as the F-1's and Indy racers do, a little slo-mo and a lot of camera movement will cause a viewer's hand to stop its movement from popcorn bag to mouth. One of the reasons that Driven should be seen on a big screen. The other is that Stallone's script does not try to turn this story into another Rocky (ie. loser becomes winner), which it could have. We're not sure how much of the nonsense was in the original story and how much was added on like extra icing to the cake. Estella Warren demonstrating her synch swimming prowess was lovely but doesn't allow for much other than a joke in the dialog, and we shut down during the aforementioned street chase in Chicago. Still, we'd watch Driven again if only for the effects (and, yes, one tiny part of the Chicago sequence, involving Stallone's race car and a parked fleet of cargo hitch trailers).
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Driven, he would have paid . . .
Dateflick level. This one's for the guys (and, no, "the hummer" doesn not mean what you think it does).
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