I’d heard too much on the negative side about Sylvester Stallone’s motor racing flick, Driven, and I’d therefore put off watching a copy of this film for close to a decade, but I finally succumbed the other weekend.
So a couple of things first. Countless folk have criticised Driven for being anything from being stupid, unrealistic, badly written, I could go on.
And much of this criticism is certainly warranted. To even the most casual racing fan, the film brings up some truly glaring continuity and realism errors that would go a long way to completely discrediting it.
So is it a complete dog of a film? Or should you try to look past the mistakes, the bad writing and the ham acting, and instead be a happy passenger in all of this?
I’ll come to my tongue-in-cheek complaints and wry observations in a moment, but it’s important to get an understanding of why Stallone made the film in the first place (perhaps he’s still asking himself this question!).
From as long ago as 1998, Stallone was pitching an idea to make a film about Formula 1, but this was eventually stonewalled and so he rewrote it to concentrate on ChampCars instead. Motorsport films provide a useful backdrop to play out theme of professional demands clashing with personal ambition – the likes of Grand Prix and Le Mans are both solid examples – and he does try to resurrect the themes in this film.
The nub of the plot focuses on a young driver, Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), and his efforts to win the ChampCar title against his main rival, Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger).
But Bly’s brother-cum-manager (Robert Sean Leonard) is more fixated about earning big marketing endorsements than the welfare of his driver, whose form slips and in turn this allows Brandenburg to gain momentum while Bly makes several costly race errors.
Bly’s team boss, the wheelchair-bound Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds), is concerned about this and calls back a washed-up retired driver of his, Joe Tanto (Stallone), to mentor Bly.
Some day-to-day elements of a racing driver’s life are recreated quite well: the juggling of sponsorship commitments, manager expectations, dealing with the fans and media – and this is perhaps an area that should have been examined further in the film.
Admittedly, the actual messages of the movie are largely lost in much of the overblown subplots, woeful dialogue and farfetched scenes, but the viewer needs to understand that this is essentially a fantasy film. If the viewer can try to ignore the unrealistic bits and go with it, then they can actually quite like the film.
But I found the unrealistic moments probably more hilarious than anything. The ‘art imitating life’ moments are quite apparent, such as one of the chief title protagonists being a particularly unlikeable German, or another being the wheelchair-bound team owner.
And to the glaringly-obvious errors…
The ‘on-location’ shots interweave shots from several different locations at once. For example, the finale is depicted as being at Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit (as indicated by some of the aerial shots), yet much of the track footage is from Montreal’s Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve.
According to the movie, each time a ChampCar racer crashes, it has to barrel roll. Methanol fires seem to have visible flames. Cars magically somersault into lakes in the middle of circuits. Drivers stop to help others in need after they’ve crashed. Oval racing wings are used on road courses. Overtaking is a simple process of changing gears and stepping on the gas.
And then there’s the street racing scene! But I won’t spoil it for you – you just have to watch it for yourself!
I could go on, but that would be too much fun.
As an advertisement for ChampCar, you can understand why the series collapsed and merged with IndyCar. As rare as motor racing films are, Driven is really quite dreadful, and we ought to count our lucky stars that this wasn’t about Formula 1.
Using our unique ‘Chequered Flags’ rating system, we award Driven…
OUT OF A POSSIBLE 5.
[Film stills are copyright © 2001 Warner Bros.]