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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Driven

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Kip Pardue
Director: Renny Harlin
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genres: Action, Sports

*Also starring: Til Schweiger, Burt Reynolds, Gina Gershon, Robert Sean Leonard, Verona Feldbusch, Estella Warren

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Here in New York, drivers must by law wear seat belts and have been ticketed for failing to do so. Hop into a cab and even Yo Yo Ma gets on the loudspeaker to warn back-seat motorists to buckle up. But you don't have to convince race car drivers to do so. They know what can happen to them if disaster strikes while they're chugging along at 250 miles an hour--or as slowly as 195 around the turns. In "Driven"-- which is to the sport of car racing what "Remember the Titans" is to football--at least one former competitor is in a wheelchair and another is in the hospital with no feeling in his legs. While the principal characters who make up this story are physically whole, they're all brokenhearted for one reason or another. If they don't suffer from busted limbs, they grieve for lost lovers. If they haven't lost a lover or a limb, they've lost face. Action director Renny Harlin ("Cliffhanger," "Die Hard 2") juxtaposes Sylvester Stallone's banal screenplay with sensational visuals that put the audience in the driver's seat. How unfortunate that the characters have to talk: while the vehicles approach mach 1, the motormouths invoke some of the most platitudinous dialogue this side of Kevin's Costner's "The Postman."

But action is what the targeted audience is here for, not the bitchy dialogue of Cathy (Gina Gershon), who was thrown over by the now has-been racer Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone). Nor are the twenty-somethings in the theater audience going to buy the game of romantic musical chairs indulged in by defending champ Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) who, after telling his curvaceous fiance Sophia (Estella Warren) to get lost now regrets seeing her in the arms of his leading racetrack challenger, Jimmy Blye (played by the 25-year-old Kip Pardue, recently seen in "Remember the Titans"). Even the fifty-something Tanto gets another chance at love when he meets journalist Lucretia Clan (Stacy Edwards--not nearly as heartbroken this time around as when she was dumped by two guys in Neil LaBute's wonderful "In the Company of Men").

Predictably enough, Harlin hones in on the track, showing us what it's like to be behind the wheel of one of those sleek, stripped, racing cars as they pound the turf, rain or shine. For those whose familiarity with the sport falls short of their intimacy with baseball, basketball, and football, Harlin does set us straight on the mores and folkways of the game. For example, if you're irritated by drivers who insist on using cell phones while they zip along at 40 on city streets might be surprised to discover that each motorist is equipped with earpieces that enable him to hear the advice of his coach. In Jimmy Blye's case, that's Carl Henry (Burt Henry) sitting in the box with a headphone calling the shots as though this sport had the sophisticated strategies which hoopsters and pigskin players have to learn. Even more surprising to those who have never been to the Daytona 500 is the particular that some of the people behind the wheel are not expected to compete actively, but serve simply as teammates of their designated competitors--though their purpose is not exactly clear from this film.

Harlin is best when filming the car crashes: in one case Mauro Fiore's lens afford us a slo-motion close-up of an accident that plunges Cathy's new beau, Memo Moreno (Cristian de la Fuente), into the drink with fuel spilling out of his vehicle threatening to blow at any moment.

The title of the movie has a double meaning, the more subtle one being the idea that all of the principals are motivated by pressing concerns. Demille Blye (Robert Sean Leonard), Jimmy's brother, is disturbed that Jimmy is no longer paying attention to his counsel after their ten-year relationship on the turf. Joe Tanto is irked by his ex and compelled to mentor Jimmy--who seems to have lost his focus--into the champions' ring. Carl needs to have a winner or he'll move on to the next driver, while Jimmy and Beau grit their teeth at each other as arch competitors for the cup.

Harlin takes us presumably to locations as diverse as Rio, Tokyo, Germany, Australia, Chicago and Detroit, filming an almost comical race through the streets of downtown Chicago as Joe chases the self-destructive Jimmy on a pursuit that sees a traffic cop clock them at 195. Stuart Levy and Steve Gilson's editing is so MTV-ish that anyone in the audience over thirty is subject to vertigo. Disregard the simplistic and predictable chit chat that serves as occasional pit stops between competitions and you'll be mildly entertained by this action thriller.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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