Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Driven: Sly Stallone's Cinematic Car Wreck

The 2001 high-octane thriller Driven, written by Sylvester Stallone (who also stars and directs), is an awful piece of trash. Including a typical storyline, predictable plot, thick German accents and a soundtrack that includes a submission by Hank Williams III, this movie is just a big piece of dog shit.

Driven tells the story of young CART star Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) as he moves up the ranks in his rookie season as a professional auto racer. Along the way we see Bly feuding with fellow drivers and dealing with growing up. It’s like Catcher in the Rye except really shitty and with race cars.

The opening scene shows Jimmy in the middle of a race against his rival Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger), whose outrageously thick accent solidified my assumption that I will never visit the nation of Germany. As the race wraps up Bly loses his cool and spins out on the track allowing Brandenberg to take the win. After the defeat, wheelchair bound team owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) decides that the kid is a strong enough driver but is mentally weak. He decides it’s time to call in his faded star, Joe “The Hummer” Tanto (no that name is not a joke) to help develop Jimmy into a real winner.

To summarize the remainder of the crazy boring plot: Bly ends up with Brandenberg’s girlfriend. Brandenberg get’s her back. Tanto falls for a journalist named Luke (Stacy Edwards) who looks like a swamp rat. After overcoming a ridiculous injury inflicted while saving a teammate from a body of water that eventually explodes because fuel from his vehicle floating at the top is ignited, Jimmy wins the championship. Jimmy builds a relationship with The Hummer and Brandenberg along the way. Thank God that’s done.

The first fifteen minutes of the movie really aren’t that bad. I’ll give it that. The dialogue sucks and the acting is pretty bad but it’s at least somewhat believable. You might actually get the idea that this may be an actual race, and these may be actual drivers, which is a big plus. Then we get introduced to “The Hummer”. “The Hummer” hits the pavement and to “warm up” throws three coins at different points on the track and executes controlled drift to lift the coins off of the pavement allowing him to catch them. The CG animation looks like something out of a PS1 video game and the sheer physics that restrict such an act make you consider turning off the television. Sadly, I was obligated to continue.

The outrage does not end at the quarter trick. Around the middle of the film, Jimmy attends a formal event unveiling the newest line of Indy Cars. While there he finds out that the girlfriend he stole, Sophia (Estella Watson), is going back to the fiancé he stole her from, Brandenberg. He then hops in one of the Indy Cars being exhibited and begins to drive through the streets of Chicago. Of course “The Hummer” follows after him and a chase at over 195 miles per hour ensues which manages to shatter protective glass at a bus stop, lift up several manhole covers, ruin a newspaper stand, lift up a girl’s dress, and I can only imagine cause countless off camera car accidents. So what are the consequences for the wreck less driving, driving to endanger and grand theft auto? A twenty five thousand dollar fine. This movie is fucking ridiculous.

Aside from the obviously ridiculous, the way that the film operates around car racing one might assume that Sly would manage to include some authenticity to the sport. He doesn’t. I do not watch car racing nor do I personally consider it a real sport but I do religiously watch Sportscenter and am very aware of how difficult it is to win a race. Jimmy comes in first or second in all but one of the races we view; yet, before the championship the handicapped team owner intends to terminate his contract. Why would anyone do that when they employ one of the top two racers in the game? That is an irresponsible business decision. It is also noteworthy that you see at the bare minimum five fatal accidents that occur yet no one is dead.

Most degrading to the integrity of "the sport" is undoubtedly the fact that Jimmy’s partner’s wife somehow manages to sit in with a headset on alongside the owner and racing coach during the last race. The headset allows her to communicate with both drivers. She takes advantage, telling her boyfriend to ignore his coach’s instructions. He listens to her. This inevitably leads to him crash into his own partner, fly over a wall into a remote location, catch on fire and end up in a body of water. Why the fuck would anyone who is not affiliated to the team get a headset? She also used to date “The Hummer.” A character’s name is “The Hummer.” This movie is fucking ridiculous.

So the film is unbelievable, but it is a movie after all and movies are allowed to be unbelievable at times. Still there are no excuses for a movie to have shitty dialogue. “What is this? What am I a piece of wood? I’m talking to you,” the acting is weak but Jesus Christ, they didn’t even have a chance. Sly wrote a screenplay that encompasses the most awkward exchanges between characters in the history of cinema. This includes one scene where Jimmy is courting Sophia while she swims in a pool, claiming that she was raised frogs “ribbiting” like a slow kid. This movie is fucking ridiculous.

After a little research I found that the auto league that the film is based on, CART, went bankrupt a year after the film premiered. This movie actually managed to kill its premise.

Sly Stallone has done some great work in his career; Driven is not one of those works. With the endorsement of the overused “guy comes out of retirement to help the rookie plot” and a main character whose name is “The Hummer,” this movie wouldn’t have been good even if it was believable and you didn’t get genuinely uncomfortable listening to the characters interact. I hope that when Rocky XII comes out it won’t follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Blye and “The Hummer” and I hope that the German man who played Brandenberg dies within the next few years. For anyone who took the time to read this please do not watch this movie. It’s a legitimate car wreck.

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