Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, August 15, 2015


I think “Driven” was the moment when even Sylvester Stallone realized he was washed-up. I remember seeing the trailers for the film and thinking it looked lame as hell. A movie about open wheel racing? Who gives a crap about that? Stallone’s presence did not make the movie any more exciting. To teenage me back in 2001, it seemed like an attempt by an actor far pass his peak straining to stay relevant. When the film failed spectacularly, all of these thoughts seemed confirmed. Even the video game version was bad. While my thoughts back then were unfair towards the star, they weren’t entirely wrong. “Driven” may well be the low point of Stallone’s long career.

Jimmy Bly is a hot-shot, up-and-coming race car driver. Bly’s manager, who is also his brother, is counting on his brother’s success. His team owner, Carl, is worried about the boy’s driving skills. Bly’s biggest rival, Beau Brandenburg, is determined to regain his lead. Jimmy also harbors feelings for Sophia, Beau’s on-again/off-again fiancée. Entering into the middle of this is Joe Tanto, a retired driver Carl brings in to mentor him. Tanto attempts to bring the best out of his protégé, as the racers head into a hard season full of drama and tension.

Stallone wasn’t the only person involved in “Driven” hoping for a come-back. The film was directed by Renny Harlin. A former top action director, Harlin was now stained as the man who made monster-bomb “Cutthroat Island.” “Driven” did not resurrect Harlin’s flagging career. And there’s good reason for that. What the fuck is wrong with the direction in this thing? The film is full of melodramatic slow-motion, distracting quick cuts, tacky overlaid graphics, and ridiculously overdone composition. The movie is packed full of off-putting music, blaring nu-metal and rap/rock songs that frequently drown out what’s happening on-screen. Worst yet, Harlin and his team frequently employ some incredibly soft CGI. A quarter, manhole covers, dislodged wheels, and raindrops smash into the screen, floating through the air in obviously fake ways. Not only is “Driven” immediately dated as an artifact from 2001, it is poorly put together and hilariously overwrought.

Not helping matters is the soap opera worthy screenplay. Jimmy Bly is a horribly unlikable main character. Entitled, moody, and cocky, he comes off like a spoiled teenager. The quiet moment he has, such as admiring his girlfriend while she’s in a pool or recovering from a broken leg, seem utterly unearned. Kip Pardue is deeply unappealing in the part. The romantic triangle between Beau, Bly and Sophia is hackneyed stuff. I did not care which driver the woman ended up with. Estella Warren, though lovely, seems utterly lost with the material. Another disposable subplot is about Sly’s ball-busting ex-wife, played by Gina Gershon. Every time she saunters on-screen, the film screeches to a halt, overwhelmed by cheesy drama. The bathroom confrontation between Gershon and Stallone’s current love interest is horribly bitchy. Even Burt Reynolds is horribly unlikable, as the wheelchair bound team manager, who spends the whole movie sniping at people.

It would seem like the race car sequences should be the saving grace of a movie like this. Sometimes they are. When the camera is positioned behind the car’s steering wheels is the only time Harlin’s frantic direction comes even remotely close to working. The few times the movie has real cars smashing into each other, spinning around or exploding, it generates some decent cheap thrills. Too often though, “Driven” relies on terrible CGI to bring its car crashes to life. When a car smashes into a wall, it becomes bad CGI. Another time, a shitty CGI car flips head-over-heel across the field. Later, two vehicles collide, one flying over the other. Again, the worst kind of rubbery, flippy-floppy computer graphics are employed to create these stunts. Car stunt enthusiasts frequently bemoan the lack of actual car stunts in modern movies. “Driven” is a good indicator of how CGI can rob on-screen car crashes of their danger or excitement.

In the middle of it all, there’s Sylvester Stallone. He plays Joe Tanto as a variation on latter-day Rocky. The driver is totally washed-up. When introduced, he’s been away from racing for quite some time. Many people on the field dismiss him as out-of-place, a loser past his prime. Despite the lame screenplay and the tawdry direction, Sly maintains his dignity. There’s even a certain grace to the character of Tanto, who accepts defeat so a younger racer can win. After a ludicrous race through the streets of Chicago, Stallone delivers an overdone but thoughtful speech to Bly, about winning and loosing. I even kind of like the romance between Joe and Lucretia, the sports-writer sent to profile him and played by the cute Stacey Edwards. If Joe had been the main character of “Driven,” it might have been salvageable. Despite his top-billing, Sly is only a supporting character, one of many faces lost in the chaos.

It’s not Stallone’s fault that “Driven” bombed. If anything, Sly is probably the best thing about it. His fading star power certainly didn’t help the movie at the box office. But even if it had starred a blockbuster actor in their prime, I don’t think “Driven” would have been successful. The script is drippy. The effects are laughable. The direction is hideous. The music is intrusive. I’d make some racing pun, something about waving a checkered flag or the movie not making it across the finish line, but the film doesn’t even inspire me that much. It’s a flop, through and through. [4/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Washed-Up Race Car Driver]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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