Today’s feature is a 2001 Sylvester Stallone vehicle directed by Renny Harlin: Driven.
The screenplay for Driven was written by Sylvester Stallone himself, who many forget is a veteran screenwriter, with writing credits including Rocky, Staying Alive, First Blood, Rhinestone, Over The Top, and many others. Story credit for Driven was given to the duo of Jan Skrentny and Neal Tabachnick, who don’t have any other credits of note.
Driven was directed and produced by Renny Harlin, the action movie director responsible for such films as Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, The Long Kiss Goodnight, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea, Mindhunters, and 12 Rounds.
Driven had two primary editors: Stuart Levy, who cut Red Eye, Foxcatcher, and Insurgent, and Steve Gilson, whose work has primarily been on television shows like Pawn Stars and Ice Road Truckers.
The cinematographer for Driven was Mauro Fiore, an Academy Award winner with credits including Avatar, Southpaw, Smokin’ Aces, Training Day, and The Equalizer.
Outside of Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone, the team of producers on Driven included Don Carmody (Goon, Silent Hill, Weekend at Bernie’s II, Lucky Number Slevin), Mike Drake (The Number 23, The Whole Nine Yards), Raul Guterres (Turistas), Tom Karnowski (Captain America, Alien From L.A., Double Dragon), Jefferson Richard (Maniac Cop, 3000 Miles To Graceland), Elie Samaha (Battlefield Earth, The Boondock Saints), Rebecca Spikings (Deep Blue Sea, Mindhunters), and Tracee Stanley (Battlefield Earth, The Whole Nine Yards).
The makeup effects on Driven were provided by Brian McManus (Cop And A Half, Striptease), Suzi Ostos (Source Code, High Fidelity), Christopher Pizzarelli (Jason X, The Love Guru), Sean Sansom (In The Mouth of Madness, Dracula 2000), and Tricia Sawyer (Casino, Sphere).
The Driven special effects work was done in part by Sam Barkan (Home Alone, 8 Mile), Colin Chilvers (Superman III, Tommy), Kaz Kobielski (Blues Brothers 2000), Don Riozz McNichols (Primal Fear), Troy Rundle (Jason X), Yvon Charbonneau (300, The Aviator), and Denis Lavigne (The Fountain).
The visual effects team on Driven included Jeremy Burns (Argo, Van Helsing), Marc Cote (300, Timeline, Battlefield Earth), Mark S. Driscoll (Monkeybone, Boat Trip), Henrik Fett (Gone Baby Gone, Black Swan), John Follmer (Children of the Corn II, Mortal Kombat, McHale’s Navy, Red Planet, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Mark Freund (Torque, Van Helsing, Be Cool), Benoit Girard (Epic Movie, Cellular, Torque), Anthony Ivins (Volcano, The Spirit), Phillip Palousek (Donnie Darko, Swordfish), Brian Jennings (Lawnmower Man 2, The Faculty), and Matt Hullum of Rooster Teeth.
The stunts on Driven were coordinated by Steve Lucescu (In The Mouth of Madness, Johnny Mnemonic, Darkman II, Darkman III, Mimic, Jason X, Battlefield Earth), Steve Kelso (The Abyss, Maniac Cop 2, Mississippi Burning, Moonwalker, On Deadly Ground, Breakfast of Champions, State of Play), and Andy Gill (Cannonball Run II, Never Too Young To Die, Maniac Cop, Dead Heat, The Ambulance, Highlander II, Maniac Cop 2, Congo, Double Team).
The cast for the movie includes writer/producer Sylvester Stallone (Over The Top, Rocky IV, Rhinestone, Tango & Cash, The Expendables, Cobra, Judge Dredd), Burt Reynolds (Cop And A Half, Boogie Nights, Smoky & The Bandit, Shark, Deliverance, Fuzz), Kip Pardue (Remember The Titans), Stacy Edwards (Superbad), Til Schweiger (Far Cry, Inglorious Basterds), Gina Gershon (Face/Off), Estella Warren (The Cooler, Kangaroo Jack), Brent Briscoe (The Green Mile), and Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poet’s Society, House, M.D.).
The plot of Driven is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A young hot shot driver is in the middle of a championship season and is coming apart at the seams. A former CART champion is called in to give him guidance.
Driven was made on an astoundingly high $94 million production budget, on which it only managed to gross just under $55 million in its worldwide theatrical release, making it a huge financial failure. Critically, the movie bombed almost as hard: it currently holds a 4.5 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 14% from critics and 33% from audiences.
The first thing that I noticed when watching Driven is that the music absolutely does not work in the movie: it doesn’t seem to sync up with what is going on in the story, and seems like it is more there to fill in space than serve a purpose. It is kind of like if the rhythm section in a rock band is trying to drown out the lead guitar: it just doesn’t work, and throws the whole situation off balance.
The way that Driven is shot and edited could best be described as “frenetic”: it is filled with rapid cutting, changes in angles, and handheld shots that never seem to let the frame stay still, even during non-action scenes dedicated to exposition or character building. It comes off as uneasy and off-balance, which is good in some situations, but not in this sort of movie.
Burt Reynolds is one of those guys who is hard not to like whenever he chooses to show up in a movie, and I usually get a kick out of seeing him in things. However, he really truck me as phoning it in in Driven, which is kind of a bummer. It doesn’t help that his character isn’t really a Burt Reynolds type: he isn’t a charmer or a smooth talker or a joker, he is more like a big business antagonist for the plot in a lot of ways, which just doesn’t suit him.
Then again, the poor performance from Reynolds in this movie is hardly unique: Stallone is undeniably wooden as well, and the younger actors visibly struggle with the respective burdens of their various roles. The only solid performance in the whole thing in my opinion was Robert Sean Leonard, who also plays against type as a sleazy agent/manager, which is a fairly small part in the grand scheme of the movie.
The plot of the movie is also a bit of a problem for me: it kicks off with the young racer already having won a number of races on his own, and hitting a backslide over the course of an opening montage. Stallone is brought in to reinvigorate him to make a final push in the season. The combination of a green rookie and a washed-up veteran is a good combination, but the fact that the kid is already an established winner when the story begins takes away from some of their potential dynamic. The kid already knows how to win: he isn’t totally wet behind the ears and in need of mentorship, he’s a professional in a slump who needs someone to pump his tires. This just isn’t as compelling of a scenario to work with. For instance, a movie where Stallone discovers a young racer while enjoying his retirement would be far more interesting, because there would be a deeper dynamic between them and a clearer end goal for the story.
Overall, Driven is a platonic ideal of a poorly conceived box office bomb. The actors are a mix of past-their-prime veterans and unbankable rookies, the story is based on a sport that isn’t particularly popular in the United States, and the production budget ballooned out of control in a way that almost doomed it out of the gate. Driven just about destroyed Stallone’s career, which was only salvaged in the end by the reboots Rocky Balboa and Rambo a number of years later, which paved his return to action with The Expendables franchise.
For fans of Sylvester Stallone’s filmography, Driven is an essential low point that is sort of an essential to catch. It isn’t a good movie by any means, but it was such a public failure and had such a negative impact on his career that it isn’t exactly avoidable for a completest or an aficionado. Likewise, bad movie fans should give this one a shot, even though it isn’t the most entertaining movie out there. The presence of both Reynolds and Stallone, even if they aren’t on point, is good enough to justify giving this one a glance.