May 4, 2001

Road To Nowhere

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Hoping for a box-office success similar to the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone has penned another, newer movie to give himself some work. Sadly, Stallone’s story about the romance on the racing circuit, Driven, is more of a swing and a miss than a knockout. In fact, it’ll drive you right out of the theater at the super-fast speed of a race car.

Driven is the story of young rookie racer Jimmy Blye, (played by Kip Pardue) who has managed to steal the first place run away from current champion Beau Brandenberg (played by Til Schweiger) more than once. Suddenly, the pressure gets to be too much for Jimmy, and he sinks into a sorry second place slump. How is Jimmy supposed to get his game back and pacify those who pay for him to race? Retired racer Joe Tanto sagely counsels him to “find himself” off the track. And of course, Tanto, played by Sylvester Stallone, is just the mentor to help Jimmy do that.

Obviously, there isn’t much substance to the plot. The entire storyline centers on Jimmy’s soul-searching quest to rediscover his talents at driving a car. The young Speedy Gonzales tries a number of different approaches to accomplish this task, including an extremely unrealistic 200 mile per hour race against Tanto through the main streets of Chicago. Eventually, Joe is able to help Jimmy focus and, therefore, teach him the fast and furious ways of the race track.

The performances are not exceptional, but do manage to tell the tale. Kip Pardue’s portrayal of the young-talent-under-too-much-stress is mediocre, although he manages to illustrate the common angst of feeling the pressure to excel at something one loves to do. Unfortunately, any young up-and-coming actor could have depicted this emotion, although probably not with as charming a smile as Pardue’s. Stallone’s self-written role of mentor is played adequately, even though his close-lipped delivery is sometimes hard to understand.

Fortunately, noteworthy performances come from the actors playing subordinate characters Beau Brandenberg and Carl Henry, the owner of the team for which Jimmy races. Burt Reynolds is ultimately believable as Carl, the strict businessman ready to drop the young rising star if he doesn’t begin to once again drive steadily into first place.

Additionally, in an alternate plot line, Til Schweiger fabulously portrays the cold German Brandenberg, who drops his girlfriend (played by Estella Warren) for the sake of his racing, only to come crawling back for the sake of his heart.

Although the plot leaves something to be desired, the special effects and stunt work are fantastic. Spectacular car crashes that launch race cars hundreds of feet into the air, fiery explosions, and live race footage from the viewpoint of each driver all describe the world of those who race in a manner that is highly enjoyable to the eyes of the audience. Apparently, racing is dangerously risky work, and the actors in this film were definitely thankful for the computer generated graphics.

In line with the special effects and stunt work is the soundtrack for the movie. Chock-full of fast songs with driving beats (no pun intended), Driven’s soundtrack adds that necessary measure of urgency and suspense that the plot and performances leave sitting in the stands.

For a movie that was written by Sylvester Stallone, Driven isn’t quite so bad. Yet, when one considers the success he has had with stories like Rocky, one has to wonder why some caring individual didn’t urge Stallone to stick with what works, without continuing to beat the dead horse that is the Rocky saga. Sadly, the green flag on the race-track does not mean go to see Stallone’s mistaken change of pace in the theaters. It would make a better rainy day rental than a drive to the cinema.

Archived article by Katie Porch