What better way to start an action movie than with... statistics!
From that rousing introduction we are thrown into the world of Driven, the highly anticipated CART-inspired movie that takes us on a whirlwind tour of made-up races.
Stallone's first script since 1993's Cliffhanger (like Driven, also a Renny Harlin production) trades in the boxing gloves and climbing irons for a fireproof balaclava as he climbs behind the wheel of the fastest cars on earth. Once again, he's an aging, faded star, this time an old racer named Joe Tanto(!), called back into service by his former boss, the wheelchair-bound racing team owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds). His mission: to block other cars (read: subtly cheat) during the upcoming grand prix races so his young, rising star Jimmy Blye can win, rising to fame and fortune and beaucoup endorsement deals.
But in order to reach that glory, little Jimmy (Remember the Titans' Kip Pardue, who might as well be music's Beck) must face down the über-German Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger, who might as well be Rocky IV's Drago). He'll also have to navigate his way through a gaggle of starlets, each with bigger lips than the next: from Stacy Edwards as a reporter to newcomer Estella Warren as "The Girl" to Gina Gershon as Tanto's ex, a ghoulish nightmare in high-gloss lipstick and a denim hat.
Director Harlin has never been one for subtlety, and the telling of Driven comes across as gently as the last lap of the Indy 500. There's hardly any nuance in the ham-fisted exposition ("...ah, that ex-wife of yours..."). Even the race scenes, which ought to speak for themselves, are marred by an overbearing "TV commentator" narration ("We are racing in Germany!!!") that turns the goings on into Racing for Dummies.
The rest of the film wallows in the obvious. When Jimmy takes off through the streets of Chicago in a stolen prototype racecar (the best sequence in the film, by far), of course Tanto is going to chase him in another stolen prototype racecar. We even get an abrupt turn from the Rocky archetype to the Top Gun school of filmmaking, as the driving foes must learn to work together during a crisis! Meanwhile, there are plenty of race-prep montages to dull the senses, overflowing with ogle-worthy Bud Girl cheesecake.
The racing, of course, is what makes Driven even remotely worthwhile, and it's hard not to sit up and start shaking nervously as car after car goes flying into walls, through the air, or safely past the finish line. Even if it does amount to two hours of product placement -- as Motorola faces down Target with Nextel closing in fast! -- it's undeniably one helluva ride.
Sly, you can be my blocker anytime!
Petal to the muddle.