One of a movie critic’s favorite things is when a film reviews itself. Sylvester Stallone’s new racecar flick “Driven” does that when a character instructs one of the drivers, “Talk less and drive more.”
The action scenes in “Driven” are full of adrenaline and excitement. Director Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger”), whose style is one that says, “Don’t forget this movie has a director — and it’s ME!,” puts the viewer in the driver’s seat and, putting aside Harlin’s sledgehammer techniques, the action is extremely exciting.
The talky parts in between, by contrast, are dull and melodramatic, with soap-opera dialogue on the order of “What’s that supposed to mean?!” and “You never loved me!”
Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a formerly successful driver who retired a few years ago after nearly killing one of his colleagues in a wreck.
The film avoids the cliche of showing us that accident as a prologue (a la “Cliffhanger,” “Vertical Limit,” “Along Came a Spider,” etc., etc.). However, I believe that is the only cliche the film avoids. Shall we count the rest?
Tanto (1) comes out of retirement to help a rookie driver (Kip Pardue) defeat a cocky top racer (Til Schweiger). The new guy, Jimmy, is in the process of (2) stealing the other guy’s girlfriend, which (3) intensifies their rivalry.
Jimmy, meanwhile, is being manipulated by his brother/agent, who is vigorously dedicated to making Jimmy succeed to (4) make up for his own failures.
Speaking of failures, Jimmy’s owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) is paralyzed, suggesting a dire accident from years ago that (5) left him unable to drive anymore.
Stallone wrote the script, apparently in one draft. There are a dozen or so characters, all with back stories, and Stallone conveys them all with unnatural-sounding dialogue. For example: “That ex-wife of yours is a piece of work,” someone tells Joe. “She divorces you and marries another driver!” Why not just put a subtitle on the screen saying, “Joe’s ex-wife divorced him and married another driver”? (The top racer, Beau, lets us know about his history with Joe with an equally obvious line: “You almost killed me.” Thanks for filling us in, Beau.)
There’s also the matter of the largely irrelevant sports announcers who tells us what’s happening in the races even when we can plainly see for ourselves. When one of them says, “Only inches separate these two cars,” guess what’s on the screen? That’s right: a shot of two cars separated only by inches.
As mentioned, the race scenes are exciting, and that includes the ludicrous one where Jimmy and Joe go racing through the streets of Chicago at 200 mph. But director Renny Harlin seems insecure otherwise. Why else would one feel the need to have music playing for 99 percent of the film, if not out of fear that the work won’t stand on its own? And why all the attention-grabbing gimmicks like slow-motion and choppy editing? If the story or characters were any good, you wouldn’t need these tricks.
In the acting category, only Gina Gershon as Joe’s catty ex-wife is very interesting, and that’s because she plays her role with the campiness the script practically begs for. Everyone else is so darned serious all the time.
In fact, that’s “Driven’s” biggest liability: It’s a standard story with stock characters and soapy dialogue, but it thinks it’s a legitimate action/drama. Enjoy those racing scenes, and take a nap the rest of the time.
C- (; )