Driven (2001)

D: Renny Harlin
S: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds

Horrendous sports drama co-written by co-star Sylvester Stallone (Copland), whose grasp of character and narrative has not improved since Over the Top. Set in the world of formula one racing, the film is laughably inaccurate in its firm focus on the drivers rather than the machines and seeming lack of interest in engineering other than the curvature of the female form. Its premise is that hotshot youngster Kip Pardue needs guidance from vet Stallone. Though his natural talent has made him a winner on the track regardless of what car he's in and which team he races for (warning! no research alert!), his attitude and indiscipline is a problem for his new boss, wheelchair-bound Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights). Stallone is nursing a Cliffhanger-type bad history and is reluctant to get back into the game, but don't you know it? the kid inspires him as he inspires the kid. Histrionics ensue as the various sub-plots get underway, especially when the girlfriend of token European racer Til Schweiger leaves him for young Pardue, fuelling the latter's ego and desire to express himself through driving.

Among the hilarious moments of wild abandon of verisimilitude thrown into the mix here is a daring rescue carried out by drivers when one of their number spirals off the track into a swamp. Our heroes stop their cars and rush to his aid, all under the watchful gaze of the TV cameras (not to mention the film cameras), and nary a track steward or first aid team in sight. There's also some formula one car on city street action (a la Charlie's Angels, only this time played straight), and numerous, practically mathematical scenes of confrontation between each of the major characters in turn and in combination. The final nail in the narrative coffin comes as the tokenistic female characters gradually disappear entirely from the story. Having run out of ways to show how distracting they can be to the drivers, Stallone doesn't know what to do with them, and so lets them sort of wander off and smile at the camera from time to time without speaking.

Though arguably the one realistic element of the film is the plethora of corporate logos and banners on display on the cars, the uniforms, the helmets, the pit crews, the hoardings, the barriers, and generally anywhere else there is one scrap of space, the sheer volume of product placement is awe-inspiring. Yes there is a lot of corporate sponsorship of formula one: it is an extremely expensive sport. But on the other hand television coverage doesn't permit long, lingering close ups of the brand names in the name of a shot of the driver's face (which you can't see anyway because it is obscured by the logo-emblazoned helmet). There is altogether too much focus on the brand names to pass without notice; indeed, it is hard to do anything much else in the absence of an actual story to follow. This is even more pronounced in the slow-motion car crashes which pepper the film, and again makes you wonder if you're meant to be caught up in the drama of what is happening or if you're supposed to think what products you'd like to buy when you leave the theatre.

Driven is a non-film: a loose assemblage of vaguely interconnected scenes of miscellaneous and uninteresting confrontation from characters who are neither credible nor worth caring about in between bouts of vehicular violence. The script is infantile, the story lacks novelty, the action is routine and generally less exciting than watching genuine formula one (where at least you know it is real). Finlander Renny Harlin (The Long Kiss Goodnight) does what he can to generate a sufficient level of visual excitation to sustain an audience's attention span, but doesn't go so far as to find good reasons for them to get involved in any way. Dumb car chase movies can be fun when handled the right way (even the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds had its guilty pleasures), but this is not fun, and it doesn't even have the merit of really having car chases. Avoid.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.