Driven

Driven is not so much a film as a two-hour video game, minus audience participation. Spectacular car crashes and special effects surround two-dimensional characters and a story so cliched and false that one never gets involved beyond waiting to see which car is going to hit the wall next. Sylvester Stallone produced the film and wrote the screenplay, and has only handled the first job well. Apparently no expense was spared on stunts, CGI imagery and effects, but the script is merely a bushel basket of scenes and not a cohesive story. What we’re shown instead is a group of largely interchangeable people that busily revolves around a series of auto races. The cars are the real stars of this film; the human beings are there only to drive them or to stand on the sidelines, admiringly watching them streak by or disintegrate.

Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) and Joe Tanto (Stallone) are racing teammates. As one might expect from the casting, Joe’s the rugged veteran and Jimmy the raw rookie. Bly has recently started seeing Sophia (model Estella Warren), the former girlfriend of rival driver Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger). There’s additional friction between the two teams, since Tanto once caused a crash that nearly killed Brandenberg. Jimmy’s manager (Robert Sean Leonard) is also his older brother, himself once a driver until Jimmy’s talent eclipsed him. The soap opera-like character names and complications keep on coming: Tanto’s bitchy former wife Cathy (Gina Gershon) is now married to Memo Moreno, the driver that Tanto replaced. Bly’s and Tanto’s team manager (Burt Reynolds, looking very wax-like) was also once a driver but a near-fatal crash ruined his career. He’s now confined to a wheelchair.There’s also a reporter (Stacy Edwards) on hand. Her main job is to ask hundreds of exposition questions and fawn over Stallone’s physique and determination.

The main problem with Driven is that beyond the preceding simplistic setup there’s no center to the film, no focal point to the story, no main character. We never learn anything about what motivates any of the characters, what they want or what they’re willing to do to get it. So when they do act, it’s only to march along with the next contrived story "event". Need a "heroic gesture"? Let’s have not one but two of the drivers leave the course to help a racer who’s crashed. Time for "relationship troubles"? Have one of the characters dump his girlfriend for no real reason.

Stallone’s script compounds the problem by committing a basic screenwriting sin: telling rather than showing. We’re often told how characters feel, but we never see any evidence to make us believe it. There’s an omnipresent voiceover throughout the film, ostensibly from an EPSN racing commentator. But this all-knowing, all-seeing oracle instead comments on things that no TV announcer would be able to see, and functions as a strange Greek chorus. Rather than seeing a character’s emotions through facial expressions or actions, we’re instead treated to a close-up of a blank-faced performer while the announcer dramatically and loudly intones "Oh, that’s really got to upset him!"

Director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2) also focuses on the cars rather than the people. Stop action, slow-motion, and multiple-angle shots are all lovingly used to show the cars, particularly when they’re in pieces after a pyrotechnic smashup. When Harlin does focus on his characters, they’re shot closely and wobbly with jump cuts and rapid edits. The intent apparently is to give the lackluster story some energy, but the only real effect is a strong need for motion-sickness medication.Filming followed the real-life Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) circuit around the world, but we never really learn anything more about the sport beyond that the cars go really fast and they sure break into a lot of pieces when they crash. The only human beings that Harlin does manage to focus on are bimbos – he never misses an opportunity to show tight-focus shots of women spectators’ bouncing breasts and skin-tight shorts.

Sylvester Stallone once starred in a film called Rhinestone. Driven is another fake–worthless, offering only some occasional surface glitter and flash.

– Bob Aulert