– Summary –
Director : Renny Harlin
Year Of Release : 2001
Principal Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, Gina Gershon, Estella Warren, Robert Sean Leonard.
Approx Running Time : 116 Minutes
Synopsis: A former racing-car driver mentors a brash, up-and-coming upstart in the open-wheeled racing circuit.
What we think : Contemptible acting and an improbably script sink this turd, almost before it gets going. Renny Harlin’s direction is bang-on exciting for a film about racing, but he’s left stranded at the action starting line by some of the most godawful actors ever to come together in a single mainstream, big-budget film.
In decades to come, the career of Renny Harlin will become – if it hasn’t already – a klaxon call for how not to go about being a big name director in Hollywood. After hitting the big time with Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger (also with Stallone) in the early 90’s, a string of box office and critical bombs left him floundering at the bottom of the direct-to-video go-to-guys heap, and he’s not been back since. Driven, the follow-up feature to relatively successful Deep Blue Sea, represents the nadir of all that is terrible in Hollywood, as well as being the final nail in the coffin of anybody giving Harlin a mega-budget project to work with again. The project ostensibly should have been a rollicking success, considering it followed the Days Of Thunder template to a tee, yet Driven became the laughing stock of releases in 2001, as well as one of the worst film in Harlin’s (and Stallone’s) lengthy careers. And finally, after many years of existing in the fringes, it finally makes its debut in our Worst Film Week here at Fernby Films.
Rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is an up-and0-coming star of the open-wheeled racing circuit, and the first major contender to current champ Bea Brandenberg (Til Schweiger). Bly is young and hot-headed, and prone to distractions; namely, the female variety, of which fiancee Sophia Simone (Estella Warren) is the foremost example. Bly’s team manager, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) persuades former champ Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) to mentor the young driver, aiding him in his quest to becoming world champ.
Driven is nothing if not a spectacle. An empty, derivative, cliche-ridden, mess of a spectacle that offers little redemptive quality aside from seeing Stallone pretend to race a car while whistling and Estella Warren’s magnificent body all wet and juicy – neither of which are all that remarkable by today’s contemporary standards. Driven is a terrible film, not only from a story perspective but from – and this is perhaps key – an acting perspective. Taking into account the sheer weight of sport-movie cliches riddling the paper-thin script, Harlin manages to squeeze every ounce of skin-crawlingly bad acting from every single performer in this crap-fest; Robert Sean Leonard included. And that’s saying something. Lead actor Stallone butchers his role as ex-racing champ Tanto, eschewing character for 2-dimensional “acting” bordering on something approximating an animated corpse. Off-sider Burt Reynolds ain’t much better, with his scene-chewing character less a person than a construct designed to create conflict. The central character of Jimmy Bly, around whom much of the film’s angst and dramatic drive is centered, was given to former model Kip Pardue, a kid with about as much ability to create a performance as I do in steel manufacturing. Purdue lacks any kind of subtlety or believability in the role, and his ham-fisted performance is barely the worst of the lot – a sad fact in this sad story. Estella Warren looks awesome, sure, but she’s equally lamentable as Bly’s girl and main supporter – she’s all puffy lips and strutting walk, with little substance to her role whatsoever.
But it’s poor Til Schweiger who comes out of this thing the worst. His accent is so heavy, and his role so terribly written, that he suffocates within the hideous acting he’s forced to endure to make a fist of things. While he’s generally great in everything else I’ve seen him in, Driven ain’t his masterpiece. The rest of the cast seem to cruise through this thing, content, perhaps, to allow Stallone and Reynolds – and to some degree Pardue – to take on the audience’s vitriol at just how shitty it all is. So, combining a terribly derivative script with equally vapid performances and some shoddy visual effects and you have the makings of a film so irredeemably bad, so inevitably dire it’s hard to find even the smallest positive with which to bless it. Watch in horror as Purdue and Stallone race down city streets in their open-wheeled racing cars, putting the general public at risk just because Bly has a bit of a sulk. Sit in abject terror as Stallone attempt to pretend to drive one of these cars around a racetrack, his hulking body the perfect example of racing industry evolution (really, has anybody associated with this film actually seen real racing drivers? They’re not built like tanks, let me tell you). Fast forward through Purdue and Warren’s embarrassing fumblings of affection and scenes of “character development”, all of which border on daytime-soap level ineptitude. And witness the hideousness of watching Robert Sean Leonard try and act like a badass.
Driven’s action sequences would have been pretty sweet had they not been overcome with Atari-level CGI. Harlin obviously tries to hide as much of it as he can, but the weight of the action sequence requirements is too much for the film to bear legitimately. Most of the time I watched this I kept thinking of Robert Duvall’s line in Days Of Thunder: “rubbin’s racing.” Come to think of it, I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I’d probably prefer to watch Days Of Thunder than this. I think Driven doesn’t just borrow from that Tom Cruise smash, it outright steals from it. The script was penned by Stallone himself, which is obviously a kind of love-letter to a passion of his, but he lacks the creative subtlety here that he had in spades on Rocky (for which he won an Oscar, can you believe it!), and the narrative trajectory is all over the place. There’s no singular through-line of development, at least none that matters. It’s as if Stallone wanted to make a great action film but found he had to have… you know, characters, to inhabit it. Driven plays just like that – like an action film with the unfortunate burden of having to have people in it.
Look, I’m sure Renny Harlin has another great action film in him. The man’s too kinetic to not come back to his best at some point. At some point, somebody will hand him a script that isn’t just a series of cliches and action beats and allow him to make a truly epic, massive action flick again. That being said, there’s too many films like Driven to make up for the lack of Die Hard 2’s in his filmography. Driven is an empty, hollow shell of an actual film, a cinematic botox injection designed to prevent coherent thought and logical narrative. If you ever get the chance to see this film, just get up and leave before you fall victim to it’s hazardously vacuous grasp.
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