What drives you?
Sylvester Stallone is still under the impression that he is a huge box office draw. Unfortunately, Stallone (and studios funding his films) is apparently not aware that he hasn't had a hit movie since 1993's action packed Cliffhanger. Teaming up with Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin for a second time, Stallone wrote and produced the romantic/dramatic/action packed racing film Driven. Featuring state-of-the-art effects and superlative crash sequences, Driven nonetheless tanked at the box office without much of a fight. Also starring Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights), Estella Warren (Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes remake), and Gina Gershon (Showgirls, Bound), Driven careens onto DVD care of Warner Home Video.
Facts of the Case
CART racing: what it all boils down to is a big race between two hotshots in fast cars. Rookie Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) and arrogant defending champion Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) are rival drivers who will stop at nothing to achieve the championship title. Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a retired driver who is pulled back into the race by team owner Carl Henry (Reynolds) to help train the unfocused but talented Jimmy Bly win the Championship. Along the way Joe it treated to some bitchy behavior by his ex-wife (Gershon), woos a good-looking journalist (Stacy Edwards), and tries to communicate with Jimmy through his smug managerial brother (Robert Sean Leonard). However, when Beau dumps his girlfriend Sophia (Warren), she starts to have soft eyes for Jimmy's playgirl looks. That won't do for Beau, forcing things to heat up as both men vie for her attentions and the coveted racing title. As expected, it will all come down to one race that will test who is the loser…and who is the winner. Surrounded by pumped up race cars and intense crashes, everyone in this film is driven for one goal—to be the best car racer ever to tear up the track!
Well, you can't blame the guys for trying. Driven is fun, fast, and loud, but ultimately it ends up being just south of mindless entertainment. I'll never understand why filmmakers add dramatic and romantic situations to movies like this. I think it would be easier on everyone if the makers just filmed the race scenes and made the movie 45 minutes long. Does anyone honestly care which guy gets the girl? Or if Stallone will make a big comeback in the racing circuit? I don't think so. What we're all waiting for is to see spectacular crashes that make really big "booms." And who better to give us these sonic treats than master of disaster Renny Harlin? Harlin also helmed the equally bombastic Deep Blue Sea, Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Though technically Harlin makes B-movies on A-movie budgets, all his films are at the least entertaining if not thoroughly engrossing. Even the bomb Cutthroat Island was a lot of fun. The same can also be said for Driven.
The story of Driven is really very inconsequential. I realize that Mr. Stallone probably put years of sweat and blood into the screenplay to make it a very convincing drama. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the final version of the film. Oh sure, there's some dramatic stuff going on…you know, people's hearts get broken, tempers flare, words are exchanged. The elements for drama are all in place, but are substantially upstaged by the all the racing action and loud explosions. The love triangle between Jimmy Bly, Beau Brandenberg, and Sophia is supposed to draw out conflict, but instead often offers the audience a chance to groan at the dialogue and actions of the participants (at one point Jimmy and Joe speed all over the Chicago highway system in racecars to both the delight and bewilderment of the audience). While everyone plays their parts well, no one on screen should be penciling in an Oscar speech anytime soon. Stallone looks and acts exactly how you'd expect him to: stoic, chiseled, and with a sly sense of humor. Burt Reynolds is Burt Reynolds, hairpiece in place and "Evening Shade" wit intact. Model turned actress Estella Warren looks very pretty, her lips almost large enough to land helicopters on. The rest of the cast is young, virile, and very eager to zip around the racetrack.
The big draw for Driven is the action, of which there is plenty. While the bulk of Driven doesn't include conventional action scenes (i.e. lots of guns, bombs, et cetera), it still has a pretty good gaggle of effects and disaster sequences. Lots of cars get banged up real good during the CART races, and while none of the sequences are particularly harrowing, overall it's a lot of fun to watch race cars spin out, lose control, then zoom into other cars with fiery results (because, admit it, you and everyone else watches racing because you just wanna see a good old fashioned crash).
Listen, there are all kinds of racing and plot holes littered in Driven. I am not a racing fan, which means I don't know squat when it comes to cars. Were a lot of the racing stunts and techniques accurate in Driven? Do they let cars still race in a torrential downpour? Can a car actually pick up three quarters with its tires? I don't know. However, what I do know is that while Driven is not a perfect film, it does entertain—and sometimes, that's all you can ask for out of a movie.
Driven is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and I can easily say that this transfer comes as close as you can get to a reference quality disc. I spotted no imperfections during the movie, and all colors, black levels, and flesh tones were all even. Everything about this picture is excellent, and I give grand kudos to Warner for their work and efforts on Driven.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French, and much like the video portions of this disc, the audio sounds very good. Use of surround was present during almost the entire movie with cars zipping around the viewer as if he were in a real racetrack. All aspects of the dialogue, music, and effects were very even without any distortion present (although at times it was difficult to hear the dialogue due to the thumping music playing in the background). Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Although it doesn't say so on the package, Driven easily qualifies as a special edition. Featured on this disc is a commentary track by director Renny Harlin that is both fun and interesting. Harlin goes into detail about the making of the film, and seems especially interested in chatting about some of the effects used in the movie. Also interesting is how the script came about (Harlin was working on a biography about racecar legend Ayrton Senna while Stallone was working on a script about CART racing. Combining their ideas they created Driven). This track is a very nice companion piece for fans of Driven or racecar driving.
Over 50 minutes of deleted scenes are included that can be watched with or without Sylvester Stallone's commentary. Interestingly, Harlin's original cut of the movie was over four hours long! It should be apparent why almost an hour of deleted scenes are included on this disc. I do believe that if some of these scenes would have been left in, the end product might have been a bit more substantial. Either way, it is nice to have these scenes on this edition and fans of the film will delight in listening to Stallone's observations about the cut scenes and his thoughts on the final film.
Two featurettes are included, one titled "The Making of Driven" and the other "Conquering Speed Through Live Action and Visual Effects." While it's nice to have these two features on this disc, neither is very long or in-depth about the making of the film. Of the two the visual effects short easily features the most information about how some of the effects were accomplished (many, not surprisingly, with computers). Finally, there is the obligatory cast and crew information, as well as a demo for the video game and an anamorphic theatrical trailer for Driven.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hollywood really is la-la land. Almost every single person in this movie looks as if they just stepped off of the catwalk and onto the racetrack (save for Brent Briscoe as Crusher, the man behind the mic). When actor Kip Pardue and Estella Warren walk on screen together, they look as if they're modeling for a Gap ad. I immediately felt the need to run to the nearest store and buy a pair of jeans.
While Driven may be as fulfilling as cotton candy, the fact remains that it's still goofy entertainment and worth the time of action buffs everywhere. Warner has done a very nice job on this disc and included at least a few hours worth of extra features that are more than entertaining. For around 20 bucks I can easily recommend this as a rental, if not a purchase. Racing fans, start your DVD players!
Driven and Warner are both free to go!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Additional Scenes with Audio Commentary by Sylvester Stallone
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