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Dustin Putman

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Driven (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by Renny Harlin
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Stacy Edwards, Til Schweiger, Gina Gershon, Estella Warren, Cristián de la Fuente, Brent Briscoe, Robert Sean Leonard.
2001 – 116 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language and some intense crash sequences).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 27, 2001.

Replacing NFL football with professional race car driving, "Driven" plays like a more entertaining, infinitely more exciting version of 1999's Oliver Stone film, "Any Given Sunday." With expert technical filmmaker Renny Harlin (1999's "Deep Blue Sea") at the helm, the movie is big, flashy, and furnished with some of the most awe-inspiring car racing scenes I've ever had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen. "Driven," a character drama at heart, may not be the deepest of motion picture, but it does stand as one of the happiest cinematic surprises of the year, thus far.

Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) has been out of the race car driving profession for some time now, but his big chance to return comes in the form of an offer from Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds), an old friend who wants him to help their aspiring new rookie driver, Jimmy Blye (Kip Pardue), win the upcoming championship title. Things aren't going to be easy for Jimmy, who has recently hit a slight downward spiral, locking horns with his manager and brother Demille (Robert Sean Leonard), and vying for the affection of Sophia (Estella Warren), a blonde beauty who has just broken up with fellow race car driver Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger).

Not being an aficionado of race car driving, it's hard to tell how accurately the sport is portrayed, although it works well enough to not uncover any major misconceptions. Hopping from one city, or country, to the next, "Driven" plays like a 'you-are-there' look at the lives of race car drivers and everyone that surrounds them. In between breathtaking racing sequences (including a spectacular, edge-of-your-seat, 195mph ride through the streets of Detroit), there is just enough time spent with the characters to get to know and like them.

This is, no doubt, thanks to the well-written screenplay, by Sylvester Stallone, which treats the inhabitants of the story as real people, rather than mere pawns. Most unexpected of all is the lack of a villain; everyone is at least likable in some way, and when they aren't, there at least is a reason for why they are acting the way they are. Extra points must be given to one scene in which two characters are seen feuding over a girl, but are smart enough to just walk away, rather than get into a childish physical fight--a tedious staple of this genre. Stallone strikes just the right note throughout, and his performance, as Joe Tanto, is nicely understated.

The entire cast acts as an ensemble, with Jimmy Blye, played with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Kip Pardue (2000's "Remember the Titans"), the center of the piece. Swimsuit model and professional swimmer Estella Warren (soon to be seen in Tim Burton's remake of "Planet of the Apes") is a standout as Sophia, both beautiful and refined. Til Schweiger (1999's "SLC Punk"), as Beau Brandenburg; Stacy Edwards (1997's "In the Company of Men"), as a reporter covering the races; and Cristian de la Fuente (currently on People's list of "The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World"), as softy racer Memo Moreno, offer fine support. Only Gina Gershon (1999's "The Insider") tends to overact, vamping it up as Joe's bitchy ex-wife.

Played to the hilt with rock music blasting on the soundtrack, a camera that doesn't stop moving for a second, and quick MTV-style cuts for the attention-impaired, "Driven" has all of the makings of the very type of movie I usually dislike--but it miraculously works. The outstanding car racing scenes, intermixed with the nice character moments, all add up into a sports movie that feels fresh and invigorating. For those looking for an action flick with a little bit of much-needed heart, one couldn't do much better than "Driven."

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman