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Fast, but Not Furious

By Joseph Graham

staff writer

Directed by Renny Harlin

Written by Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, and Til Schweiger

Rated PG-13

What do you get when you team up action film director Renny Harlin with action film star Sylvester Stallone? Well, the last time Harlin and Stallone worked together the answer was a 225 million dollar 1993 box-office smash, Cliffhanger. Since that time Harlin has gone on to direct a couple of modestly successful hits (Long Kiss Goodnight and Deep Blue Sea), while Stallone’s box office draw slowly dwindled. This time the answer is a plotless action movie.

Harlin mixes actual Grand Prix stock footage, choreographed stunt driving, and computer-generated effects with spectacular results. The racing scenes of the film are truly visceral. From the driver’s point-of-view through cameras bolted to the front and rear of these high-speed machines, we get a shot that is as much impressive as it is fun. These cars (if they can be called that) practically fly at speeds well over 200 miles per hour. With the roar and excitement of the crowd, the chaos, and last minute preparations in the pit, all the action in Driven is well done. The original soundtrack by Brian Transeau also adds much of the excitement to the action.

Have I mentioned the best part, and the only reason why some watch motor sports? The crashes. Driven has lots of them. The moment that brings all racing fans to their feet is when one driver attempts to overtake another by squeezing through an opening with only inches allowed for error. Although the purist of fans may disagree, when one of these moments loses control and cars take flight and literally disintegrate before our eyes, the adrenaline rush and the sight of something that we just don’t see everyday is well worth the price of admission. Then the moment is gone and we are brought back down by the frightening reality that someone is actually in that twisted piece of scrap. Again, Driven mixes well the real with the staged by using slow motion shots and precision editing. We feel we are almost part of the action. Unfortunately, as with all of Harlin’s films, Driven lacks any kind of convincing real human drama.

This is where Driven stalls out. Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a seasoned veteran of the racing circuit brought out of retirement by racecar team owner and one time partner and friend Carl Henry, played by Burt Reynolds. Tanto is hired to mold and mentor rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), who after winning a number of races has now lost his edge to rival Beau Brandenburgh (Til Schweiger). Stallone’s screenplay gives us no more than that. The dialogue and character exchanges become nothing more than segues to the action surrounding the races, which happen about every 15 minutes throughout the film. In the opening scene Beau’s girlfriend Sophia (Estella Warren) sadly asks him, “What am I in all of this?” As he tightens his gloves without looking at her, he answers, “A distraction.” That is what this scattered plot becomes, a distraction. Prior to one race as Jimmy and Joe proudly sit on their vehicles eagerly waiting for the green light so they can go to work, the camera pans the auto kennel and we see many of the other drivers praying, kissing their wives, or thinking quietly alone. One driver tapes a photo to his chest. It may be a bit of a melodrama, but it is interesting. Maybe they should have made a movie about that guy.

While most of the action does have a certain amount of realism, Driven has one moment that stretches realism to the limit. I don’t know about you, but whenever I see an 850-horsepower Formula One open-wheeled Champ-Cart, only one question comes to mind: What would happen if one of these things got loose on the open road? Well, Harlin unleashes two of these turbo-charged rockets with a chase on the Chicago streets in a sequence that is almost laughable. This is both the high point and the low point of the film. As Stallone roars by a group of people standing outside a nightclub, a woman’s skirt raises and in another scene, a manhole cover is violently lifted and thrown in a glass-shattering wake. These are just two of the countless unbelievable sight gags.

In the end, Driven is what it is -- a plotless action movie. Is it entertaining and fun? Yes, but only half of it.