A recent television advertisement for Blockbuster Video presents a series of 'candid camera' interviews of men asking them what type of movies they like to watch. One after another, they declare their passion for watching 'car crash' movies, and in the event that those aren't available, they would settle for a movie where trucks crash into each other. Well, it seems "Deep Blue Sea" director Renny Harlin's latest popcorn flick, "Driven", made in collaboration with Sylvester Stallone ("Get Carter"), was made with these guys in mind. Essentially a travelogue of the glamorous and risky world of auto racing, "Driven" offers these guys plenty of high-speed visceral thrills, with a cliché-ridden story tacked on so their wives and girlfriends won't get too bored.
The Stallone-penned script steals liberally from the well-tread conventions of sports movies. There's the emotionless world champion Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger of "The Replacement Killers") who will let nothing get in the way of his winning, including the 'distraction' of his knockout gorgeous girlfriend Sophia (Canadian supermodel Estella Warren, who will be appearing in "Planet of the Apes" later this summer). Then there's the up-and-coming Jimmy Blye (Kip Pardue of "Whatever It Takes"), a genius behind the wheel who might very well steal the world title from Brandenburg-- provided he can overcome the claustrophobia caused by his newfound fame.
Unfortunately, his insecurities are exacerbated by his overly-aggressive brother Demille (Robert Sean Leonard of "The Last Days of Disco"), who constantly pushes Jimmy as his manager. The pressure to win is also coming from Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds of "Boogie Nights"), the unforgiving owner of the racing team that Jimmy is a part of. Which is why Carl brings in his old buddy Joe Tanto (Stallone), a washed-up racer with something still left to prove, to get his star racer back on track. Unfortunately, Tanto has a couple of distractions of his own to deal with-- his sassy ex-wife (Gina Gershon of "The Insider") and a friendly reporter (Stacy Edwards of "Primary Colors") who is following the team through the racing circuit.
Off the track, very little that is said or happens is interesting. The set-up conflicts play themselves out in the manner that you would expect, as Henry's commercial interests clash with Tanto's sense of honor, while Sophia becomes a ping pong ball between the one-track mind of Brandenberg and the insecurity of Blye. The obligatory moment of doubt becomes a catalyst for reinvigoration, and pretty soon, the uncertain rookie and the shell-shocked veteran must work as a team to recapture the glory-- you can pretty well guess how it ends (hint: there's lots of cheering, clapping, and assorted hoopla).
However, when the movie is on the track, Harlin captures what is probably some of the most visually-arresting 'racing porn' to film. If you enjoy watching cars race at high speeds and then crashing into one another, then "Driven" will probably be worth the price of admission. With the help of CGI (some a little too obvious), Harlin gives the audience a ringside seat to the world of high-speed racing and the carnage that usually ensues. One spectacular crash is filmed à la "The Matrix" in 'bullet-time', as the omnipotent camera rotates around the car as it spins end over end after hitting a wall. Another well-orchestrated crash follows the trajectories of debris as several drivers are embroiled in a chain-reaction collision. The film's final white-knuckle dash towards the finish line is certainly energetic in conception and execution, injecting some tension into an otherwise emotionally cool film. And given that this type of movie is aimed at 'guys', there are plenty of gratuitous shots of 'motorway babes' thrown in for good measure.
"Driven" certainly has its moments, but overall, it is a middling effort where story and character take a backseat to creating stunning special effects sequences. Of course, if you are a big fan of auto racing, or like the men in the Blockbuster ads, enjoy watching car crashes, then "Driven" should provide a couple of hours of fascinating diversion. But for those moviegoers in search of a little more for your $12 admission, "Driven" is a disappointing ride in the slow lane.