`Driven' crashes and burns

April 27, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

You know a film is in trouble when it casts Sylvester Stallone as the font from which all wisdom flows.

Then again, "Driven" is a film with no shortage of problems. It's early yet, but director Renny Harlin ("Deep Blue Sea," "Cliffhanger") might have made the most irritating film of 2001: There are enough shaky, zig-zagging hand-held camera shots here to make an entire city queasy, the soundtrack is basically an amplified version of grease sizzling on a frying pan, and do we really need to see a half-dozen different races, all shot in exactly the same way (and each preceded by a crowd montage invariably including a trio of well-tanned young women with bare midriffs wearing short shorts)?

Basically, what we have here is a film where the first 20 minutes are repeated again and again until everything comes to an absolutely predictable end. Old Sly, who apparently spent some four years selling this script all over Hollywood, is one-time racing hot shot Joe Tanto (an appropriate name, since Stallone's delivery does often put one in mind of that great screen character, Tonto). Having left the race car scene under mysterious circumstances (don't worry, they're never really explained; "Driven" is not big on exposition), he's called back by grizzled car owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds, chewing every nail within reach) to help young hunk Jimmy Blye (Kip Pardue) become racing's next big thing.

If it helps, just think of "Bull Durham," and substitute Stallone for Kevin Costner, Pardue for Tim Robbins and (gulp!) Reynolds for Susan Sarandon. Oh, and dumb the script down about tenfold.

Now for the complications. Blye, who's about as puppy-dog cute as humanly possible, falls for Sophia (Estella Warren, who matches Pardue cute-for-cute), the estranged girlfriend of his arch-rival, Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). Tanto is shadowed by his ex-wife, Cathy (Gina Gershon, whose character is about as appealing as eczema), who's now married to the driver he's just replaced on Henry's racing team. And Blye is being managed by his couldn't-be-a-bigger-jerk brother, DeMille (a scowling Robert Sean Leonard).

But wait, we didn't even talk about the 200-mph race through the streets of Chicago, Tanto's romance with slinky ace reporter Lucretia Jones (Stacy Edwards, displaying neither pen nor paper nor even good questions), or Tanto's cool trick, involving running over quarters while driving around the track (a trick that elicits lots of oohs and ahhhs from his racing crew).

There, I've already devoted more ink to this plot than it's worth - certainly, more than Harlin ever worried about it. A member of the blow-up school of directing who would be much more comfortable helming video games than movies, Harlin devotes all his energies to the race sequences. And while they're impressive at first, employing an explosive mix of real footage and computer-generated effects, they're all so of-a-piece that the novelty soon wears off - at about the same time your patience wears dangerously thin.


Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue

Directed by Renny Harlin

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG-13 (language, race cars blowing up real good)

Running time 118 minutes

Sun score: *

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