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Driven

review by Rob Gonsalves

DIRECTOR
Renny Harlin

SCREENWRITER
Sylvester Stallone
STORY BY
Jan Skrentny
Neal Tabachnick

PRODUCERS
Renny Harlin
Elie Samaha
Sylvester Stallone

CINEMATOGRAPHER
Mauro Fiore

MUSIC
BT

EDITORS
Steve Gilson
Stuart Levy


CAST

Sylvester Stallone (Joe Tanto)
Burt Reynolds
(Carl Henry)
Kip Pardue
(Jimmy Bly)
Stacy Edwards
(Lucretia Clan)
Til Schweiger
(Beau Brandenburg)
Gina Gershon
(Cathy)
Estella Warren
(Sophia Simone)
Cristián de la Fuente
(Memo Heguy)
Brent Briscoe
(Crusher)
Robert Sean Leonard
(Demille Bly)


MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time: 116m
U.S. release: April 27, 2001
Video availability: VHS - DVD
Official website


Other Renny Harlin films
reviewed on this site:

- Deep Blue Sea
- The Long Kiss Goodnight


The most frightening spectacle in Driven isn't the shot of a race car spiraling into the air, colliding head-on with another speeding racer, and flying what looks like several miles into a nearby pond. No, the really scary sight is how Burt Reynolds looks these days, or, at least, how he's been made to look in this movie. Playing a bitter, wheelchair-bound former racer who now owns a race franchise, Reynolds seems only a nip or tuck away from Gary Oldman in Hannibal; he looks like an animatronic puppet carved out of pink soap. Is this what happens to plastic-surgery patients as they get older? Reynolds' skin is stretched so taut you could bounce a quarter off it -- you wonder how the man eats, for God's sake.

Sylvester Stallone, who appeared in his previous movie Get Carter alongside Mickey Rourke (have you seen his face lately?), may unconsciously be surrounding himself with these past-it Dorian Grays to make himself feel less freakish and outmoded. Stallone's fall has been unusually prolonged and painful, even by has-been standards. He keeps doing these movies in which he's washed up, or either fighting or mentoring a young turk; out of respect for the early good movies he did, you want to sit him down and say, Sly, babe, it's over. You had your shot at a Pulp Fiction comeback (Cop Land), and it didn't work. Please take up poetry, carpentry -- anything but this ongoing psychotherapy morosely played out on the screen.

If you harbor any residual affection for Stallone -- the unspoiled, scruffy lump in the original Rocky talking to his turtle, or even his solid work in early-'80s thrillers like Nighthawks before he got all Ramboed up -- a movie like Driven isn't fun even on a nasty ironic level; it's sad. It's essentially yet another Stallone fantasy in which he puts on a show of being humble, helping out younger characters, and then gets to prove there's still heroism in the old Sly after all. Stallone is Joe Tanto, a chewed-up former racer called out of retirement to help young-turk racer Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), who's carrying on a heated competition with German hotshot Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). There seems to be nobody else racing (though you see other cars on the track, as a backdrop); it's just Jimmy and Beau. And then Joe.

For a minute or two, I was almost with Driven as a shameless throwback to Stallone's peak decade, the '80s. The Jimmy-Beau face-off is introduced in the sort of montage familiar from Rocky III and IV -- spinning fake covers of Sports Illustrated or Newsweek, snippets of excitable sportscasters. But the entire movie is downloaded into our brains in this same zap-zap way; it's like Any Given Sunday with wheels. Director Renny Harlin and, I assume, many computer artists work overtime to smash the metal together; there are a fair number of shots that wouldn't have been possible without CGI, and aren't plausible with CGI.

Harlin gives the dialogue scenes the same helter-skelter treatment, only without computer enhancement, though, in the case of Gina Gershon as Joe's vicious ex-wife, I'm not so sure. It may be time for Gershon's tumescent legions of fans to admit she can't really act, not that they care. Stacy Edwards (In the Company of Men) stops by every now and then as a sportswriter, looking a bit disoriented. Fitting in more snugly is the model Estella Warren, as a bimbo who goes from Beau to Jimmy and back again; Estella manages not to embarrass herself (except in a lame joke when she's required to "ribbit" like a frog), though this doesn't necessarily mean she's ready for Uncle Vanya -- it just means she may not ruin the upcoming Planet of the Apes after all, for those who were worried about that.

Generally, though, this is a boys' movie, with the understated, depressed-sounding Stallone reading his own script with the world-weariness of a fallen king far from love and glory. (I suppose it only helps his exhausted characterization that he plays most of his scenes opposite Kip Pardue, who is as exciting as cold cereal without a bowl.) In a bit of unplanned (or perhaps not) synergy, Driven arrives around the same time that the Rocky series returns to DVD; spin the 1976 original again, then turn to Stallone 25 years later, lecturing Jimmy about going back to when he enjoyed "pure victory" untainted by fame and pressure. Then again, you'd better not. Driven is saddening enough without augmentation.




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