Up-and-coming rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) faces off against seasoned champion Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger), under the watchful eye of manager Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds), who calls in disgraced veteran Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) to help the young driver deal with the pressure, not in the least from Bly’s older brother and manager Demille (Robert Sean Leonard), who shows little concern for his kinsman’s fragile mind. Meanwhile Brandenburg dumps his longtime girlfriend Sophia (Estella Warren) in an effort to strengthen his focus, and inadvertently sends her into the arms of rival Bly, making for a volatile cocktail on and off the track.
Will Jimmy Bly be able to keep his eyes on the prize and the pedal to the metal? Will Tanto’s return cause friction between him and his fellow driver Memo (Cristián de la Fuente), who married Tanto’s ex (Gina Gershon)? And what about Tanto’s growing feelings for reporter Luke (Stacy Edwards), who’s doing an expose on the world of racing and immediately takes to the rugged sprit of the old driver? All that and more on this week’s Melrose Race.
Trying to combine the boneheaded macho stubbornness of a Michael Bay film with the spirit of an 80’s underdog sports movie and the subtleties and elegance of an Altmanesque ensemble drama creates a narrative paradox doomed to a spectacular failure.
Driven is a mess. A full-on, assault on the senses, uncoordinated, relentlessly loud mess.
From the first frame we head straight into a montage, setting up the central rivalry, while race commentators are screaming status reports at us. From then on it’s jump cuts, flash frames, stretched images, desaturated images, whip-pans, slow-motion, CGI zoom shots, whatever you can think of director Renny Harlin’s got it. The camera moves up and down and left and right, desperate to capture the breathtaking madness of a life lived at more than 100 mph. And it does, but the side effect is almost devastating: A complete lack of focus on the simpler things: The characters, their love of driving, the beauty of being first to cross the line.
The characters get it the worst. Kip Pardue can’t carry the film, and Stallone isn’t allowed to. Virtually every other character is cartoon evil. The manager is a ruthless bastard, the brother is a calculating scumbag, the girlfriend is a slut, and the ex-wife is a wretched b*tch. One poisoned pill after another and in the middle of it all pure-as-the-Pope (yes, that’s a joke) Stallone trying to play the Dr. Phil of the racetrack to Kip Pardue’s confused-pregnant-single-mother-of-3.
Director Renny Harlin and writer Sylvester Stallone’s intentions were honorable. But in an effort to make the quintessential racing movie they ended up with a massively bloated beast – reportedly 3-4 hours long in an earlier version. A multi-threaded story that tried to do everything and perhaps even succeeded. However, such a creature could not be allowed to survive. So they cut it. Dramatically. They cut it so much that they reduced the film to a montage crossed with a music video. They cut it so much that star Sylvester Stallone was more or less removed from the film. They cut it so much that the film never gives us a chance to take a breath, or time to feel anything.
As one race takes over the next, in a never-ending stream of commercial-covered multi-colored images, it all just becomes a blur, and most viewers will find themselves making a beeline for that permanent pit stop long before the credits begin to roll. Ironically this film about race-car driving could have benefitted enormously from a little dose of tunnel vision.
Audio & Video:
On the audio-visual side Driven has no problem securing the pole position. It features a good-looking, pleasing image, with solid colors that aren’t exaggerated or graded to death. There’s some grain here, but not too much. One funny detail, though: The CGI cars didn’t used to stick out as much as they do now in HD.
The sound is absolutely fantastic! We’re right there in the middle of the roaring racetrack, we’re inside the helmets of the drivers, and meanwhile the soundtrack blasts us with a variety of hits – a new song every 30 seconds. The audio certainly keeps pace with the visuals, for better or worse.
The story about what could have been is told brilliantly through two of the special features: Renny Harlin’s engaging commentary for the main feature, and Sylvester Stallone’s defeated ditto on the over 50 minutes of deleted scenes. It’s nothing short of fascinating to listen to, and even though the extras are presented in SD, and the deleted scenes look worse than any VHS, this is an outstanding package.
- Commentary by Renny Harlin
- Additional Scenes with commentary by Sylvester Stallone (51:53)
- The Making of Driven (15:03)
- Conquering Speed Through Live Action and Visual Effects (9:55)
The disc is region free.
Maybe there isn’t a masterpiece buried in the piles of footage shot for Driven, but there’s certainly the potential for a vastly superior film. As it stands now, Driven fails on almost every level. And yet, when it all comes together there’s just something intriguing about it. Come to think of it, it’s like watching a car crash.
Extra Features: A