'Rocky' hits the racetrack
[Photo: Warner Bros.]
Sylvester Stallone, left, as Joe Tanto and Kip Pardue as Jimmy Blye star in Driven.
By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
Choosing your favorite cheesy moment in Driven is going to be tough. For me, it's when a jilted fiancee sets her engagement ring on a table in Chicago and the guy picks it up in Japan.
The star of the grunt and fortune-cookie philosophy is at it again, but this time he is the screenwriter, too. The cars should have been given more dialogue.
Hard to top that sloppy cine-logic but director Renny Harlin never stops trying. Of course, he has the advantage of a script by dramatic assassin Sylvester Stallone. Together, they've created a pile-up of racing cliches and needless junk so bad it's almost entertaining. Almost.
Stallone also stars as Joe Tanto, sort of an Obi-Wan Cannoli for a hot-shot rookie on the CART racing circuit. His presence ensures that Golden Raspberry Award voters will take notice, since he was named worst actor of the past decade. Some things never change.
Driven is Stallone's first screenwriting credit since Cliffhanger in 1993. He hasn't lost his clumsy touch, evidenced by such sage philosophy as: "This is not your life, this is what you do for a living" and "Do you think you can push it to the ragged edge?" and the ever-popular "It's not how far you fall, but how fast you get up."
After those howlers, whining engines coursing through theater speakers sound downright melodic. As a writer, Stallone's still stuck between Rocky and a hard place where plots must be sensible. His only breakthrough is inventing bland commentary for bogus TV announcers to inform us who's leading.
Actors walk through their roles, except Burt Reynolds, who coasts in a wheelchair. He has the crusty Burgess Meredith role, although Rocky's manager never had so many facelifts. Reynolds knows sloppy carburetor flicks, but his scenes resemble a dinner theater tour of Days of Thunder.
Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans) co-stars as racer Jimmy Blye, looking and acting too young for a learner's permit. His rival Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) is another example of Hollywood reaching back to Nazi Germany for villains when even terrorists have spin doctors. Gina Gershon vamps to remind us Showgirls wasn't that bad after all, with fashions Jennifer Lopez would improve by wearing backward.
Sophia (Estella Warren) was engaged to Beau but he found her distracting, so she's with Jimmy now. Their triangular showdown at a banquet feels like a prom crisis, with Jimmy peeling out in a race car like a jealous junior. The ensuing chase through Chicago is ludicrous, but Driven could use more of that.
Joe also gets a groupie (Stacy Edwards), one of those movie investigative reporters who never asks a pertinent question or takes notes. She just looks lovingly at the guy who wrote, produced and starred in the movie. How does Harlin expect these guys to race with all those suds on the track?
Harlin is typically brazen in his attempts to camouflage the script's sterility. He watched a lot of MTV between Cutthroat Island and now. Harlin overdoses on rapid editing, sometimes using four or five camera shots in the time spent on a single line of dialogue.
Race sequences are expertly filmed, although Harlin's gimmicks make computer-animated flying debris look phonier than it should. Raindrops on a face visor are a neat effect, though. Sure, Driven occasionally places a viewer in the driver seat, but so can dropping 50 cents in a video game.
Stallone's moral eventually becomes obvious: If you learn to hum, date a synchronized swimmer and hop on an injured foot 10 times, you can be a champion, too. He could have spared Rocky Balboa a lot of grief.
- Grade: C-
- Director: Renny Harlin
- Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kip Pardue, Burt Reynolds, Til Schweiger, Gina Gershon, Robert Sean Leonard, Stacy Edwards, Estella Warren
- Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
- Rating: PG-13; automotive violence, profanity
- Running time: 120 min.
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