Driven3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Turbo-charged with testosterone, Driven slides onto the screen with big, pompous attitude – largely because it was produced and written by Sylvester Stallone, who also had the arrogance to cast himself in a leading role. The joke of it all is that Stallone, in a movie about ultra-fast, state-of-the-art race cars, can be compared alongside the young, aspiring racers to a decrepit Chevy Nova that should have been retired eons ago. I mean, there should be a lemon law against performers like Stallone.
Sly plays Joe Tanto, a washed-up driver who returns to the hectic world of racing at the request of team boss Carl Henry, played by Burt Reynold – another sputtering, backfiring clunker. “We go back. We go gaaaaaay back,” Tanto reminds Henry with a sample of Stallone’s awkward writing. I suspect there’s an inside joke here, because the film flashes an old candid photo of the two stars, and Stallone and Reynolds do indeed go way back – back to the ’70s, where they should have stayed.
Henry’s novice driver Jimmy Bly, played by newcomer Kip Pardue, who has such a baby face it’s hard to believe he has a license, let alone the championship skills needed to expertly maneuver an eight-wheeler, needs some serious focus and tutoring. Tanto, wise old racer that he is, gives him plenty of advice and relieves Jimmy of the pressure Jimmy’s manager-brother DeMille (Robert Sean Leonard) has built up at the track.
Jimmy’s rival – both on the track and off – is a scowling German named Beau Brandenberg. Beau, the current world racing champion, is played by another newcomer, Til Schweiger, who does his best Jean Claude Van Damme impersonation. Now Jean Claude may not be the best actor on the silver screen, but he has a lot to offer movie audiences, namely every part of his body, and next to Schweiger’s wooden acting, Jean Claude is downright Shakespearean!
The two male leads in Driven – both blondes – vie for racing’s highest honors, while the film fails to take advantage of a dark-haired Latin lover in a driving supporting role. Christian de la Fuenta, who plays Memo, is muy delicioso and has a face and body that could sell umpteen magazines; he’s also the most talented newcomer in the cast. Estella Warren, meanwhile, plays the girl who comes between Jimmy and Beau. Estella is another rising star, and what she lacks in talent – and that’s all, because she’s talentless – she makes up for in wholeness, or at least she tries to at the old college. I read that Estella was a champion synchronized swimmer, and of course the script takes full advantage of her assets by throwing her into a pool for a brief water ballet.
Gina Gershon is the only seasoned (and young!) pro among the newcomers, and all I can say is thank heaven for small favors, because Gina always knows how to spice up a movie. Gina plays Tanto’s bitchy ex-wife Cathy, who is the comic relief in Driven. Still, Cathy is a delight, especially when she berates Tanto’s new love – a vanilla journalist named Lucretia (Stacy Edwards).
Director Renny Harlin knows how to spice up an action movie – The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2 – I even forgave him Cutthroat Island, but in Driven he just can’t put the pedal to the metal. The racing scenes, for the most part, look like the next generation of video games. Not to mention the insanely fast cuts, where I was sure there were subliminal messages being conveyed to the viewer here. There is no genius here, just a frantic mishmash with a deafening soundtrack – Driven is absolutely the loudest movie ever.
There is one thrilling scene in Driven that kept me riveted to the cinema seat. Jilted Jimmy speeds through the streets of Chicago in a race car at 185 miles per hour while being chased by Tanto. Skirts explode, stacks of newspapers fly into the air and manhole covers go flying. But the thrill is short-lived, and in the end, Driven is about as exciting as a flat tire in rush hour traffic.