Directed by Renny Harlin
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, Burt Reynolds, Stacy Edwards, Estella Warren, Gina Gershon, Robert Sean Leonard and Cristián de la Fuente
Cinematography by Mauro Fiore
I was lucky to catch a special advanced showing of “Driven” on Monday night. The theater was filled with a diverse crowd. Probably more males than females (although there were more females than you’d expect for a “Stallone” movie). The ages of the crowd varied widely. The oldest person was 92 (he won a shirt before the movie started), and there were kids probably as young as ten or so. I think that the diversity of the crowd indicates the wide appeal of “Driven.”
“Driven” reteams Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone for the first time since their blockbuster hit “Cliffhanger.” Renny is back in the director’s chair and Sly once again writes (not just co-writes this time) the screenplay and acts. Both Renny and Sly are racing fans, so what better (pardon the expression) vehicle for them to choose than a racing movie?
Sly has written a movie that has many layers to it. On the surface, “Driven” is simply a movie about an older man brought in to mentor a young “hotshot” who has the ability to be great if he can only “keep it together.” Some people will go see “Driven” and they will come away saying that the movie was cliche… that the racing scenes weren’t realistic… that the computer effects were obvious… that the movie was too slow in parts… Yeah, and some people think that racing is simply about driving real fast!
Sly’s screenplay for “Driven” IS on the surface simply a movie about an older man brought in to mentor a young “hotshot” racer… but it is also very much more than that. For one thing it’s autobiographical. Just as Sly used Rocky and boxing to parallel his life, he also uses Joe Tanto and racing. Tanto was at one time the hot young driver (like Sly after Rocky), who drove on the edge and was “dangerous” (like Sly’s choice of making movies that kept kicking up the action-level). There’s more that Joe has in common with Sly — note the Gina Gershon character and think Brigitte. Look at the motivations of Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) bringing Sly back and think of how producers offer Sly certain roles, how they want Sly only when he plays the character that they need. There are more similarities if you look for them.
Sly’s script allows each character (except for Gina Gershon’s) to be well rounded. They aren’t one dimensional – they don’t always act as you might expect. There are no real heroes or villains… and that’s because we see and understand their motivations.
Even the title of Sly’s screenplay is more complex than first glance. Sure, “Driven” refers to racing but it also refers to the state of mind of the racers – they are driven to be not just their very best but THE very best. As I earlier stated, some people will complain that the screenplay has cliches. On the surface some things may seem cliche but I assure you that the movie will have plot twists that you won’t expect. The cynics will still complain,”But there are cliches!” To them I say, before something can become cliche it must occur enough that people can see it as cliche and if it occurs that often, then it is real life!
Sly is very, very good as Joe Tanto. He seems very relaxed and has several scenes where he shines. Til Schweiger works well as the current racing champion who questions Joe Tanto’s motivations in returning. Cristián de la Fuente is excellent in his small but important role as Memo Moreno, the racer that Sly replaces when he returns. Memo and Joe were once friends, but that all ended when Sly’s wife left him to marry Memo. Gina Gershon shines as Sly’s ex-wife. Robert Sean Leonard and Kip Pardue also do well in their respective roles. Estella Warren is very pretty. I loved seeing Burt Reynolds in a film with Sly.
Will this film win any academy awards for acting? No. Did the actors/actresses do a good job in portraying their characters? Yes, and in most cases a very good job.
Renny Harlin built his rep as an action director. The racing scenes shine. There are many, many scenes that action fans will love. The question is will they enjoy the slower scenes as well? One of the things that bothered a friend who saw “Driven” was the way the pace of the film changed when there was no racing. He said during the races everything was quick cuts and all out action but when it followed the racers when they weren’t racing everything seemed to be going real s-l-o-w. Well, duh! These racers live for the next race. That’s when they are alive, doing what they do best in a sport that can have deadly consequences for even the best who make a mistake. When they are racing everything is split-second decisions and speed… and I believe that in the opening scenes away from the track, that Harlin was trying to show how slow and mundane life is when they are not racing. The action scenes are great (especially the impromptu race through city streets at night) but my favorite scenes included more than just the racing.
The Special Effects
“Driven” does have a bunch of them. Some work very well and a few are just “ok.” The first obvious special effect involves Sly flipping a coin in the air (of all things). I liked the effect and thought it worked for the movie. Did I know it was a special effect? You betcha, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it. (I also knew that Neo wasn’t really running up walls, that Tom Hanks wasn’t getting shot at as he stormed the beach, etc.) There are several crash sequences that are effects shots as well and most of them worked really well (especially the shot of the car tossed in the air and coming straight down nose first from the driver’s perspective). Two effects that were just ok in my opinion were the rain drops hitting the face shield (not overdone at least) and the “Pitch Black” speed effect.
“Driven” was a good choice for Sly. He was able to create a character that I think fans will really like. He was able to return to writing (one of his strengths – now if he would just direct again). He proved that he is willing to take a supporting role (which I think will get him some offers that might otherwise never come his way). And he was able to show more range than just running and shooting a gun (not that I want him to stop that all-together).
I think that “Driven” will do pretty well at the box office. I have no doubt that it will be #1 at the box office it’s opening weekend. The real test will be to see how it does in the following weeks. I’ll be surprised if it reaches blockbuster status – but it could! My feeling is that it will be a modest hit and probably Sly’s biggest at the box-office since the last time Renny and Sly teamed up.
– Craig Zablo (April 26, 2001)