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Diecast Cars

Driven = Drivel

Admittedly, the racing movie sub-genre has -- if you’ll pardon the pun -- a checkered past, with only a couple of offerings coming even close to depicting big-league motorsports in a believable fashion. Add Sylvester Stallone’s Driven to the DNQ list of racing flicks.

Stallone, who also wrote the original story, stars as Joe Tanto, an aging race driver lured from retirement by manipulative car owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) to coach his hotshot rookie driver (Kip Pardue) in a bid for the championship against defending series champion Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). Got that?

In Driven, Sylvester Stallone (l) tutors Kip Pardue on the nuances of life, love, and racing. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Now throw in a couple of hot, but fickle women (Estella Warren and Gina Gershon), an acidic brother/manager for Pardue (Robert Sean Leonard), a reporter (Stacy Edwards) for Stallone’s sort of love interest (they never get beyond holding hands), plenty of scantily clad (usually female) race fans and you’ve got Driven. Oh, and the crashes, I musn’t forget the crashes.

Director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Die Harder) professes to love the sport, but it’s hard not to think he loves special effects even more. I watched a TV show recently, featuring Harlin congratulating himself about how many computerized cars were in the movie and how most of the crash scenes (apparently there’s a MAJOR accident at every race) were achieved with digitally rendered race cars, but no one could tell the difference.

I’ve got news for you, Ren (does that make Stallone Stimpy?) -- the “Yes” men are lying to you. I could tell the difference and it was ludicrous. I’ve watched A LOT of races and although I’ve seen a few cars get airborne, I’ve yet to witness one of the flights the drivers and cars routinely experienced in Driven. Yes, I know, this is Hollywood and everything has to be bigger than life, but c’mon! Some of these guys almost hit the TV ‘copter!

Don’t worry though, unlike reality, nobody ever gets seriously injured in Driven. It’s sort of like The A-Team or MacGyver on the silver screen. Cars careen through the air, disintegrate into pieces, and burn to the ground, but the drivers always escape intact. The nastiest looking accident occurs when poor Max Papis (one of the few real CART drivers mentioned, though they never get on screen) lands upside-down with a thud in the infield. We’re never told how Max fared, but we can guess he’s going to be okay, based on everyone else’s resiliency.

As much as the special effects were trite and overblown, the dialogue and scenarios were lame and uninspired. When Stallone confirms he plans to return to competition, the wheelchair-bound Reynolds asks, “What about the fear?” Our hero answers, “The fear is gone.” Oh, okay, I guess that’s all it takes. Or how about when the race is on and three or four people in the pits (including girlfriends!) have a direct radio channel to shout instructions at the driver? Or better yet, the rookie hasn’t won in THREE WHOLE RACES, so his brother/manager hisses, “You’d better win this one or you’re going to look like a fool!” Yeah, right.

On another level, Driven is a sponsor’s paradise, as real-life companies receive plenty of exposure on the sides of cars and stitched across driver uniforms. In this light, it’s curious that CART, the sanctioning body that provided extraordinary access to its events for filming last year, received almost no recognition in the 109 minutes that Driven occupied the screen. I would have thought CART would want to promote itself, at least to avoid having one film reviewer refer to Driven as being “set in a Formula 1-type atmosphere.” Honestly, I can’t see how the movie will steer casual fans to CART, so what was the point? $$$?

Some reviewers seem willing to forgive Stallone and Harlin for the movie’s many (!) weak points in exchange for the technical wizardry it offers. For race fans, though, the only place they’ll be driven by this preposterous tale is crazy, repeatedly saying, “That wouldn’t happen!” Driven may not be the stupidest racing movie ever (or maybe it is), but I never thought I’d see the day when I considered Days of Thunder superior to anything.


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