*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A
starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger
screenplay by Sylvester Stallone
directed by Renny Harlin
by Walter Chaw A homoerotic cock-opera showing the sad and pathetic multiplicity of forms that mid-life crises can take, Driven, Renny Harlin's ode to thick necks and macho poses, is more "programmed" than "directed." The film resembles a particularly irritating and impenetrable video game juxtaposed with pages torn from the jug-heavy EASY RIDER magazine and scenes paraded out of the Big Book of Movie Clichés, all performed by a cast that provides a definitive example of the way "legendary" can be used in a derisive sense.
Driven is also exceedingly weird, an absurd series of interchangeable events narrated by an excessive amount of dateline subtitles (that linger on the screen a beat too long, in deference to the key demographic), and a pair of sports commentators who function not so much as a Greek chorus but as a couple of backwoods yokels sitting behind you trying unsuccessfully to explain the film to each other. An interminable series of indistinguishable chases, explosions, catty one-liners, and PG-13 leerings at T-shirt clad bimbos, Driven is a singularly cruel endeavour in that it inspires unintentional laughter in which we cannot indulge for the beginnings of a crippling headache.
Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is a hotshot rookie driver on the CART circuit who has a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent head. Naturally, grizzled (very grizzled) veteran Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) is called in by world-weary, wheelchair-bound manager Carl Henry (a waxy-looking Burt Reynolds) to act as a Crash Davis-esque guru for the Young Turk in time for the Big Race. Meanwhile, chief rival and token Teuton Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) loses his empty-headed, athletic girlfriend Sophia (blank synchronized-swimmer-turned-model Estella Warren) to the brash Jimmy briefly before getting her back.
All the while, a budding romance between Joe and a journalist (Stacy Edwards) is given short shrift--Driven is, after all, already a love story between men and men, and men and their machines; Joe's ex-wife (Gina Gershon) is so appalling a burlesque of womanhood that one can hardly blame Driven's asphalt gladiators for preferring their own company. If you're surprised by the highly unlikely happy ending where all is made well (missing only Reynolds rising from his wheelchair in a Dr. Strangelove homage), Driven is the first movie that you've ever seen; and if Driven is the first movie you've ever seen, you probably won't think twice about a rescue set-piece involving two drivers helping a third out of an exploding pond while the track's medical staff is inexplicably fifteen minutes away.
Boasting of no static shots nor any scenes that last longer than thirty seconds, Driven is a visually cacophonous (and exhausting) accident of a movie so self-conscious and proud about its empty flash that it ironically becomes a somewhat pithy commentary on the specious spectator appeal of watching the sport in the first place. Knowing that the main draw to such fossil-fuel testosterone spectacles is an arrested love for automobiles and a fascination with potentially deadly mayhem, Driven boasts of long pornographic takes of catastrophic wrecks, throbbing metal, muscular men rapturously stroking that metal, and those same men later transferring their sexual desire for their overheated machineries (and for one another) onto vacuous clockwork groupies who appear every bit as constructed and bright as the boys' curvy, souped-up go-carts.
Driven is an embarrassment that tries to cover its script and conceptual deficiencies with a deafening soundtrack and computer-assisted car races/crashes that never for a moment veer toward reality or instruction. I know as much now about CART racing's strategy and appeal as I did prior to watching the film, leading me to believe that the amount of knowledge one possesses about the "sport" going in will greatly influence the degree to which one enjoys the movie. There's certainly no interest in converting the unconverted nor appealing to a wider audience, but if the opening crawl boasting of over 90 million CART spectators is to be believed, Driven doesn't need to appeal to a wider audience. Judging by the flaccid box office and quick exit from the super-plexes, though, I'd hazard that even if you like car racing, Driven is still a legendarily unpleasant movie-going experience--and here I thought that nothing could be worse than actually attending a CART event. Guess I learned something after all.
Warner DVD presents Driven in a solid anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that nevertheless isn't razor-sharp. Not surprisingly, the film looks its best when it looks its fakiest, i.e., when the digital effects enhance the race sequences: slowing down and magnifying raindrops, and doing a Matrix dealie with a disintegrating car. It's dazzling...in a really advanced screen-saver sort of way. No evidence of edge-enhancement, nice shadow detail (particularly in a chase scene through Toronto-pretending-to-be-Chicago), and a vibrant and engaging colour palette help engage our eyes. Predictably, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is also impressive. All growling engines and exploding chassis, every minute is underscored by a tedious and repetitive soundtrack. (That's fitting for a tedious and repetitive film, I guess.) Atmospheric noise explodes from front and rear channels and though it never gets too exciting, it's not for any deficiency in the noise department.
Renny Harlin's feature commentary is technically rigorous and audacious while betraying his relative cluelessness in regards to character development and storytelling. The commentary soars when Harlin zeroes in on the minutiae of action filmmaking in difficult situations and the challenges of visualizing effects still just a silicon dream in a mainframe microchip, falling flat when he tries to narrate the impenetrable plot or futilely justifies non-existent motivations. Surprisingly, Harlin also interjects a great deal of racing information about which one would not otherwise suspect the director was privy, considering the dearth of useful information in the film itself.
A fifteen-minute HBO "Making of" documentary concerns the trials of filming on-site at actual CART events. Harlin seems harried and angry when he does not seem exhausted, and Stallone exhibits a nice self-deprecating sense of humour that sadly does little to curtail his desire to write and produce terrible motion pictures. A ten-minute special effects featurette is just not very credible unless the slack and unconvincing digital F/X in Driven didn't at all seem obvious to you while you were watching.
Twelve extended deleted scenes in rough-cut form come with the option of Stallone narration. His insights are presented in a homey, intimate way that is interesting in that it reveals the actor/writer's affection for the piece and his genuine interest in fleshing out his characters. The first of the scenes, an extended sequence showing Joe Tanto's scarred and pain-ravaged body, is particularly elucidative of the character, and its absence in the film is sorely noted. The egregiously-ignored reporter love interest is given an extended opportunity to spar with the mentally unarmed Tanto, and Burt Reynolds is shown to have had a much larger role. An alternate ending resolves itself to be a surprisingly tight conclusion, drawing together some threads introduced early on in Tanto's character development (also deleted) and even introducing a hint of a Kerouac-ian philosophy that is several times smarter than almost anything I've actually seen in a Stallone film. Still not smart, mind you, just several times smarter.
This is the kind of classy feature I wish more DVDs sported. It is educational, heartfelt, and adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the film, although as with New Line's excellent Infinifilm format, my wish is for the studios to reserve such treatment for films that actually deserve it instead of formula dreck with questionable scholarly value like Driven and Blow. A loud theatrical trailer, nuts and bolts cast & crew biographies, and a Playstation2 crossover game trailer that is completely superfluous because the film itself already functions handily as a preview for a computer game round out the disc. Originally published: September 26, 2001.