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Have you seen the new ads for Driven? You know, the ones with all the fast cars, explosive crashes and beautiful women? Have you seen Sylvester Stallone?
Well, he starred in Driven and wrote it, but you wouldn't know it because Stallone isn't doing any press for the movie. I haven't seen him on Leno, Letterman, the movie's commercials, posters or trailers. He even turned down my request for an interview. Kind of a surprise since Stallone hasn't written a movie in several years. You think he would be proud of his work. However, there isn't much to be proud of here.
Kip Pardue stars as Jimmy Bly - the hottest rookie on the Grand Prix circuit. He is starting to win plenty of races and might dethrone last year's season champ, Bo Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). However, Jimmy has trouble dealing with his new fame, overbearing agent/brother Demille (Robert Sean Leonard), clamoring fans, invasive media and demands on his time. Car owner Carl (Burt Reynolds) decides to bring in a new teammate to teach Jimmy how to succeed in this pressure filled environment - former champion Joe Tanto. Of course, Tanto left the sport after a horrific incident that haunts him.
Can Tanto help Bly win the season championship? Will Tanto be able to overcome his demons?
The premise sounds like a familiar one, however, Stallone creates so many subplots and entanglements between the characters that none of them are fully developed. Jimmy Bly ends up dating Sophia (Estella Warren) who used to date Brandenburg, who took the championship from Tanto, who used to be married to Cathy (Gina Gershon), who is now married to Memo (Christian de la Fuente), who was replaced by Tanto on Carl's team, but that's OK because Tanto has the hots for Lucretia (Stacy Edwards), a writer documenting all of this for an article she is developing (this isn't auto racing, it's a soap opera). Got it? Then you are better than me and the rest of the audience.
In the end, we never really find out about all the plots Stallone alludes to in the script. What is Driven about? One man's quest to reach greatness? The old vet's comeback? The love triangle between Bly, Brandenburg and Sophia? Who knows?
Also, none of the characters breaks out of their stereotype and they are left to recite scene-stealing speeches that don't have any meaning because the characters have not been developed enough. After an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay for Rocky, Stallone pen a better script. Of course, he also wrote Rocky 2, Rocky 3, Rocky 4, Rocky 5, Rhinestone, Staying Alive and the arm wrestling epic Over the Top.
Can good direction save the poor screenplay? No. Director Renny Harlin (King of the Big Budget Flops. Remember Cutthroat Island? It cost $100 Million to make and took in about $10 million at the box office. That's the kind of error that would kill a studio today.) is obsessed with special effects that have no meaning. We are treated to many spectacular, unrealistic car crashes and a silly chase through the streets of Chicago. Then, Harlin gives us super slow motion closeups of the people involved, but none of it has any impact because we don't give a darn about any of the characters involved. Also, Harlin tries very hard to show the audience that every race has the same cast of characters, advertisers and hangers on. Eventually, it just looks like he is trying to raise the T&A factor.
Overall, bad writing, bad plot development, meaningless action and no character depth make this one unwatchable. I'll give them a couple points for some cool special effects, but fewer characters with strong storylines could have saved Driven. Stallone tries so hard to create an ensemble piece that he is stuck trying to explain too much, and fails to explain most of it. Grade: D
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