review by Elias Savada, 11 May 2001

Nine hundred million spectators. One championship. And a few other factoids pop up on an opening placard for the latest example of narrative road kill pushing CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) from Sylvester Testosterstallone. But not one warning two hours later, after a worldwide, whirlwind of nausea-inducing camerawork, an over-produced, deafening score, and a few carloads of cheap CGI effects, that the checkered flag for high tech car racing gold is dreadfully off color. Red flags abound in the banal script, silly dialogue, and the age-defying stretch marks on the face of Burt Reynold. Also, don't forget that Franchise Pictures (Elie Samaha, Andrew Stevens) have given Stallone the same misbegotten free reign in this pet project that they offered him in Get Carter and to John Travolta via last year's Battlefield Earth. Memorable films for all the wrong reasons.

It's not the flag that's checkered. It's Renny Harlin's career. The Finnish-born action director alternates bombs (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Cutthroat Island) with blockbuster thrill rides (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger). Break-even efforts Deep Blue Sea and The Long Kiss Goodnight get lost in the shuffle and Driven ultimately will end up a financial and critical flat tire. Unless you like video games and acne -- and you're under age fifteen.

I caught up with this hackneyed effort a week after it opened at the Hoyt's Potomac Yards, within grazing distance of Ronald Reagan National Airport, sharing an 11:05 a.m. screening with one other hearty soul. Maybe I didn't pay, but, boy, did I feel robbed. Pity the other viewer who had to fork over five bucks and change.

The convoluted story? Grizzled veteran driver Beau Brandeburg (Til Schweiger) is losing patience, faith, races, and his fiancée Sophia (Estella Warren) to a young whippersnapper Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), a distractible newcomer troubled by acne and managed by his ambitious brother DeMille (Robert Sean Leonard). It's not enough that he can't take the professional pressure; he's too young to know how to spell it. Wheelchair-bound team manager Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds, he of the tightened facial tissue), concerned about his looks (Burt, that is, not Carl) and the inexperienced rookie (Carl, that is, not Burt) who drives his high-priced, product-promoting cars, recalls retired car star and wannabe Zen master Joe Tanto (Stallone) from a tinker's dusty garage to babysit and inspire trust in Jimmy and amiable fear in rival Memo Moreno (Cristián de la Fuente), who happens to ride shotgun on Carl's team and inherited nasty bitch Cathy (Gina Gershon), Joe's ex-wife, after Joe took a bad turn and killed another driver a few years back. After hours, Jimmy's more at home sneaking into various mosh pits than crew pits. An even-keeled media reporter (oxymoronic pun intended) Lucretia "Luc" Jones (Stacy Edwards), on board to investigate the male-dominated sport, becomes attracted to Joe…

Wait a minute, this sounds just like daytime soap opera!

Stallone pontificates whenever anyone has a hang nail, eager to soothe any ruffled brows, let alone the anguish and emotional scars shared by one and all. When he's behind the wheel of the racer he hums (I ho-hummed myself) and drops quarters to later embed in his back tire on the next lap. Impressed? I wasn't. Harlin obliges the aging star, and fills in the rest of the film with MTV-style editing (Steve Gilson and Stuart Any Given Sunday Levy) and queasy in-the-driver's-seat cinematography (Mauro Fiore) that zooms and pans and barely stays still when the action's on the race track. The film offers enough stomach-churning sky-cam, track-cam, trans-cam, pedal-cam, anything-cam shots that Warner Bros. should offer promotional barf bags or Dramamine samples.

As for that infernal product-placement, you have to expect it in a film about a sport that embraces the marketing clout of many Fortune 500 companies. It's still annoyingly over-pushed. Between Driven and Josie and the Pussycats this year, there have been hundreds of corporate logos bearing down on innocent moviegoers in the equivalent of cinematic spam. Oh, for disheartened fans of the doomed XFL, there are plenty of T&A shots for you to drool over.

If you stumble into Driven, you're not there for the drama in the story or the acting. God forbid. Reynolds, Gershon, and Stallone could all qualify for Raspberries. Gershon's character, mean-spirited and breathing fire throughout this clumsy effort, is stupefyingly sedate and SMILING in a hospital room at the end of the film. She must be pilfering some sedatives meant for her boyfriend. Maybe she sees the end of this disaster is in sight. Or she's just wondering amusingly why there are so many Canadian flags flapping above the stadium housing the final world championship race…in Detroit.

Directed by:
Renny Harlin

Sylvester Stallone
Burt Reynolds
Kip Pardue
Til Schweiger
Gina Gershon
Estella Warren
Stacy Edwards
Cristián de la FuenteBrent Briscoe
Robert Sean Leonard

Written by:
Sylvester Stallone

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned
Some material may
 be inappropriate for
 children under 13





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