Driven (review)

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Days of Blunder

It’s the feel-good movie of the summer! I haven’t laughed so hard or so long in ages! I still ache from the guffaws that racked my body. Of course, Driven isn’t an intentional comedy, but oh dear gods is it funny.

Crap this bad and this hilarious doesn’t happen by accident, and indeed, Driven seems driven by a master plan. Take one movie star with an inflated sense of his own talent — for instance, Sylvester Stallone — with a pet script — about, say, Formula One racers — that has been turned down by every major studio and probably lots of small production companies. Add producer Elie Samaha, who will bankroll any old vanity project if a big enough name is peddling it — see John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, Bruce Willis’s The Whole Nine Yards, and Wesley Snipes’s The Art of War… or, rather, don’t. Finish by throwing together a cast that displays a stunning incompetence, with seasoned pros and newcomers alike who manage to make every word of dialogue, including an and the, ring false. Settle in for two hours of the funniest stuff you’ve ever seen onscreen.
Not that you have to see this movie to have seen this movie — even a casual filmgoer will be able to call the action before the lights even go down. There’ll be a hotshot rookie driver with no discipline who will be tutored in the ways of racing by an older, wiser ex-driver dragged back into the game. There’ll be a “villain” driver, of course. And there’s gotta be a girl. Race cars will explode, sending tires flying toward the camera. Narration will be provided by annoyingly chipper sportscasters, who’ll fill us in on the relationships between the characters as well as shout things like “An incredible accident!” and “Oh that is horrifying!” with morbid glee.

Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is the rookie, the good guy — you can tell because his bland, blond face is soft and dewy. Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger), with his angular German head and Euro accent? The bad guy, natch. The girl, Sophia, is played by Estella Warren, an athlete turned model turned actress — you’ve been warned. Her lip trembles and her eyes well with unconvincing tears as Beau dumps her — she’s a distraction to his racing — in the opening moments of the film. Twenty bucks says she ends up in Bly’s bed.

Sly’s insightful screenplay for Rocky was obviously a fluke, because his script for this film is full of hilariously awful “inspirational” speeches by Robert Sean Leonard, slumming it as Bly’s (evil) promoter brother, about watching the 8-year-old Bly beating the pants off the other kids at go-carts, and awful “inspirational” speeches by Stallone himself, as the wise old pro (of course), about faith and will (favorite line of dialogue: “Faith is like a good disease”). He creates absurd characters like Lucretia Clan (Stacy Edwards: Primary Colors, In the Company of Men), a journalist who’s writing an “expose on male dominance in sports”… cuz it’s such a big secret, I guess. He sets up scenes in which enemies start off sniping and griping at each other and suddenly delve into a heart-to-heart chat about racing and romantic relationships. And he omits vital scenes, like how two hot-shit new race cars manage to get from an exhibition hall, with a black-tie party going on around them, to the street outside, ready for Bly and Sly to hop into them for an absurd chase through city streets.

On the other hand, that missing scene could be director Renny Harlin’s (Deep Blue Sea) fault — he seems to care less about presenting us with a coherent movie than with a two-hour beer commercial. He pushes the limit on how much second-unit photography (that is, footage with no cast members in it) a movie can contain and still be called a movie. Driven is at least 50 percent second-unit stuff of races and cities around the world, of the boobs and asses of anonymous Barbie-doll girls at racetracks as they suggestively eat hot dogs, of city street scenes lacking context but meant to suggest that his characters actually traveled. Some time-lapse footage of Tokyo at night, a scene of Bly and Simone at a pool with an enormous Japanese flag flying at one end (and an Exit sign in English on the reverse angle)… oh yeah, we are so in Japan. Who cares if the second-unit footage of real European and Japanese racetracks doesn’t match up with the ones where the actors are actually driving?

In a year of astoundingly bad movies, Driven still manages to distinguish itself. It could be this year’s Battlefield Earth. Enjoy.

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