Driven Movie Review

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The spirits of moderately better racing movies like "Grand Prix" and "Days of Thunder" are buried somewhere inside "Driven" -- buried under heaps of clichés, stock characters, video game gimmickry, overly elaborate Ginsu editing, moronically contrived filler sequences, inadequate special effects and about four minutes of plot.

Set in the wound-up world of open-wheel racing, those four minutes go something like this: An irascible, crippled car owner (Burt Reynolds) hires a washed-up driver who once had a promising career (Sylvester Stallone) to help season an unfocused rookie boy-racer (Kip Pardue) so he can beat his rival (Til Schweiger), the reigning circuit champion.

Throw in a subplot in which Kip and Til (what's with these names?) vie for the affections of hottie-of-the-month (and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model) Estella Warren and a few more sidelines about Sly's catty ex-wife (Gina Gershon) who married another racer (Cristian De La Fuente) and the pretty reporter (Stacy Edwards) he's dating now, and that pretty much takes care of everything except the racing.

Director Renny Harlin knows nobody who would pay to see this movie cares a stitch about plot, which is why he doesn't bother with establishing the characters. He just opens the picture with a montage sequence of zooming cars, race announcers and newspaper headlines to get everyone up to speed on the standings. He knows with even more certainty where to find his money shots on the racetrack -- in elaborate crashes and "in the zone" driver's-perspective shots.

But the action sequences are so laden with gimmicks they're almost hard to enjoy. Making no bones about aping video game style, Harlin introduces every race by flashing on the screen the name of the speedway and a little schematic of the course before jumping to car-mounted cameras. It's almost a Pavlovian response for your thumbs to develop a joystick tic while watching this movie.

Unlike its Playstation inspiration though, no single shot last more than five or six seconds during these visually hyperactive race scenes. "Driven" is all about keeping the images coming at 195 mph. If you want to know what's actually going on (say, for instance, who is in the lead) you have to listen to the incessant play-by-play provided by real ESPN announcers, because there's no way you can tell by watching the movie.

Away from the track, "Driven" has to rely on its utterly formulaic script -- which was written by Stallone himself (eek!). When it's not busy preaching team ethics clichés and be-true-to-yourself mantras, it's laboriously employed to set up implausible showboating scenes, like the one in which brooding, pouty pretty boy Kip swipes a prototype racer and burns rubber through streets of Chicago with Sly giving chase. Cool? A little. Dumb? A lot.

Even with scenes like this unnecessarily upping the ante to ridiculous proportions, "Driven" might have passed muster as good dumb fun if it weren't for the one area where it really falls apart: special effects. Most of the crash footage in this flick is computer-generated, and boy does it show -- especially when the CGI shots are used to embellish real crashes. The effects used in this movie just aren't up to snuff for marrying man-made images to footage of the real thing. Harlin gets terribly carried away with this technology to boot, even using it to take us inside crashing cars -- which would kick butt if it weren't so obviously fake.

By the way -- a warning to anyone who knows anything at all about driving at high speeds: "Driven" uses steering and shifting purely for narrative purposes. If anybody really cranked the wheel the way they do in the cockpit shots of this movie, they'd be dead within seconds.

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Driven Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, April 27, 2001

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