Retro Review: Driven

Smash, skid and collide are just some of the words associated with the racing film, “DRIVEN”.

Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the film, leads an ensemble cast of new faces into the trenches of the Formula One Racing Circuit. Stallone stars as Joe Tanto, a man reluctantly returning to racing after watching his career short circuit some years previous. Tanto is called into service after Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds), Tanto’s former boss starts to watch a young hotshot driver, Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), self destruct on the racetrack. The young kid can’t handle the pressure of winning against rival Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) and Henry wants Tanto to bring Bly back.

“Driven” is one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me. I had such high hopes that this film would be the one to bring Stallone out of the box office dungeon. Stallone, in some respects, has come full circle with this outing. He wrote an amazing piece called “Rocky” which began his brilliant career so why not write again to save it.

You can see by the mixture of emotion and racing that he had his heart in the right place when he wrote this. I could feel his love for the sport and the desire to bring part of that admiration to the film. The “dime” sequence is part of the homage to the sport. It was also one of my favorite sequences.

The racing sequences, over all, are brilliantly filmed with punching panache that makes you want to be the driver. Director Renny Harlin was brilliant with them and it shows his adrenaline when presenting them. What I found annoying about the racing sequences was the play-by-play commentary. You knew this stuff was scripted as the retarded newscaster would state the bloody obvious.

I wanted to strangle the guy after the second race sequence. I also found that the film maybe had to many race sequences and maybe should have cut at least one out to allow more dialogue for the emotional stories “littered” within the film.

Littered, is the tamest word I can use for what transpires in between the racing sequences. Before we even know who Bly, Tanto and Brandenburg are we are pulled into the depths of the Indy circuit. For a lot of people not familiar with how the racing scene works you maybe lost in this film for the first 35 minutes.

On top of being thrown in, we have to contend with who the characters are and how they interact with each other. Watching them interact is like watching a really bad soap opera unfold with a sort of Jerry Bruckheimer musical anthem playing behind. I mean not any of these characters have any chemistry at all. Half them speak with thick accents and it’s sometimes hard to decipher their lines with the music being so loud.

I respect that Stallone was trying to show an international flavor to his film since the circuit is full of the world’s best but please try to find some that just didn’t stumble out of acting school. There could be a debate here, was it really bad acting or was the script to blame?

I liked the music in this film in that it was perfect for an adrenaline picture. Sometimes it was so loud it was hard to watch the action. I looked at the soundtrack and found that about half the artists on the soundtrack contributed to the “Coyote Ugly” soundtrack. Thought that was interesting.

This film scares me in that it does a brilliant job in trying to cover its flaws with pretty faces, intense action sequences and breath-taking crashes. If you don’t agree with my assessment then please remember back to one incident that should make it all clear.

(Warning: spoiler ahead) When the Memo crash occurs and the drivers stop dead in their tracks to save Memo, did you really believe that was an intense scene? I mean come on, there is no way a driver is going to pull over a car going over 200 miles an hour to save some guy. Their relationship with Memo was so cardboard that I didn’t believe it for a second. I firmly believe it would have to have been a driver’s mother before they would pull over. Then you have the brain-dead announcer stating the bloody obvious as the action unfolds. I wanted to see a car fly into the announcer box and kill them. That alone, would have finally made me jump out of my seat and cheer. I seriously laughed throughout the whole Memo crash aftermath sequence. It was a total sham.

(Warning: spoiler ahead) One last comment on the Memo crash, I think the film would have been better if the crash was fatal and it would have allowed the characters to come together in grief. This would have anteed up the drama and allowed the audience to bound with some of the leads better. It could have also allowed us to see that this whole racing thing is bloody dangerous and insane sometimes.

Over all the film is one huge Indy commercial and that’s a shame. Where is the real side of driving? Where is the carnage and how insane these guys must be to go over 200 miles an hour in such a flimsy aero-dynamic racing machine? These aspects would have made for a more interesting story.

The scenes where Stallone faces off with Reynolds reminded me a lot of the fights Rocky Balboa used to have with his manager in the Rocky series. The speeches Stallone gives Pardue on how to be a better driver made me scream Rocky 5 in my head. You could almost replace Jimmy Bly with Tommy Gunn and you would be in the Rocky 5 film. Alas, it got tiring after a while.

I respect Stallone and what he tried to do here but the final product leaves me with a frown. In some respects, Days of Thunder still maybe the pinnacle of racing films. Driven definitely doesn’t have anything on that film.

(2.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Side Note: In the scene where Jimmy (Kip Pardue) first sees Sophia (Estella Warren) in the bar. You see her in a lovely white top fastened with only one button. When Jimmy finally approaches her and the close-up is used to see them talking you will notice she is wearing a black sleeveless top. Was it just me or was that a lousy cut and a retarded continuity mistake? For me these two had the best chemistry in the whole film and it’s a shame there wasn’t more of them together. Well the best chemistry in the whole isn’t saying much.

Written: April 26, 2001

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