Saturday, March 28, 2009

REVIEW: Lions for Lambs

This movie DEFINITELY lives up to the top half of the box.

If Driven left you thirsty for discourse on weighty issues, I have just the movie for you. In fact, if Driven left your blood racing, ten minutes of this movie will get your blood stuck in DC traffic.

Sorry, but this is apparently the lion.

Lions for Lambs is a 2007 “drama” that “explores” the “controversy” over the Iraq/Afghanistan “war“ (actually, I‘m not sure why that last part is in quotes). Although nominally about Afghanistan, the less controversial of the two wars, the film is really about every damn thing that people have ever argued about regarding both wars, with a general focus on the argument that war in the Middle East is unwinnable, and the United States should pull its troops out, rather than suffer more casualties. The film had rather unfortunate timing. It was released several months after an increase in military forces, “The Surge” as it’s commonly known, wound up severely reducing the level of violence in Iraq. Now, it can be reasonably argued whether Iraq will ultimately turn out what we hope it to be, whether the deaths of many thousands of American troops was worth making Iraq democratic, and whether the war in Afghanistan can be turned around the same way Iraq was. But there was little doubt in November of 2007, and even less now, that yes, an aggressive military strategy can secure a country in the Middle East. Although Lions for Lambs arrived a bit too late to make a coherent argument in the face of reality, it did reflect a lot of criticism of the war abroad that persisted for a long time.

"You know, Meryl, you're right, it's a lot easier to relax on the set when you're making a movie you know nobody without a bad movie blog is ever going to see."

The movie opens with three people each looking worriedly at three different reports: Tom Cruise looking at a report on the President’s declining popularity (something he apparently hadn’t been aware of, because it was such an underreported story), a military commander looking at a report on increasing military casualties, and Robert Redford looking at a student’s declining attendance record. It’s a powerful way to start the movie; can the rest of the film possibly live up to the drama of actors silently examining line graphs? Not quite, but it comes close. From here on out, the movie takes place in quasi-real time, and because it also involves international terrorism and political intrigue, you might think this will be something like 24.

"Wait, this movie's the Independence Day sequel, right? Lions for Lambs is just a secret filming title, right?"


Huh-huh. He's giving Iran the finger.

Story A takes place in Washington, DC, where Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) has called liberal reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) in for a private meeting. Jasper Irving? Yes, that’s the Republican senator. You’ll be relieved to know that Tom Cruise doesn’t pull a “Kevin Costner in Thirteen Days” and doesn’t attempt a wacky accent. But it’s Tom Cruise, so you know he’s going to be a smooth-talking hotshot, and he’s a Republican in a movie about the Iraq/Afghanistan War, so you know he’s going to be very gung-ho about the war, very religious, and very slippery. At least the movie acknowledges that Roth’s a typical liberal, self-righteous journalist, but that’s presented as less of a character flaw than it is just her responsibility. Senator Cruise (let’s face it, it’s easier to ditch the pretext of calling these people by their characters‘ names) is meeting with her to offer her an exclusive story: a major new offensive taking place in Afghanistan, whereby small units of American soldiers will seize strategic locations in the mountains during the Afghan winter, thereby snatching them up before the Taliban can get to them.

"Man, coffee just gets me jazzed and ready to go! Now, let's sit and talk about attendance records!"

The movie treats this entirely seriously, as some kind of a major scoop that is going to advance Streep’s career, but seriously, when did you ever hear a story about Iraq or Afghanistan that was not about either strategic failures (past tense), terrorist attacks, domestic protests, or political failures? I’m reasonably sure that the news media doesn’t treat Iraq and Afghanistan like a Civil War board game that takes 6 hours to play: military strategy that doesn’t involve some impressive new weapon isn’t going to be a top story. Regardless, Cruise is presenting the new strategy--which is being put into effect just as the meeting begins--as a turning point that could wind up winning the war. Streep, being a good journalist, discusses the strategy with skepticism, and being a good liberal, this means rattling down a list of talking points regarding military failures over the past six years, particularly those that aren’t even vaguely relevant to the situation at hand. Cruise responds by saying, “mistakes were made,” but going through his own laundry list of talking points. Streep responds to those arguments by saying more of her own talking points. And Cruise responds by saying, “mistakes were made,” and going through talking points. I hope you have a comfortable couch.

"Drinkin' coffee!"

Story B takes place in Afghanistan, where the strategy Senator Cruise talked about is taking effect. Arion Finch (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) are among the marines flying to a snow-covered mountainside as part of the operation. However, it turns out that contrary to the intelligence, the Taliban already has people on the mountain, and the chopper gets pummeled by (surprisingly accurate and efficient) anti-aircraft fire. Ernest falls out of the chopper, and Arion, being his best friend, jumps out a few moments later after him, no parachute or anything. And since he’s being so earnest (no pun intended) about helping his friend, we don’t have to worry about him getting seriously hurt or killed at the end of his long fall onto the mountain. Not yet, at least.

Wait, Keith Jackson was in this movie and they focused on "Todd Hayes" instead?

Story C gets us away from the political power players and soldiers locked in mortal combat, and to the place where really important things happen, “A California University.” There, Political Science professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) has called a student, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) into his office for an early-morning meeting (eight o’clock is apparently impossibly early for California college professors). He’s worried that Todd hasn’t been attending classes lately, and wants to know why. Todd explains that he’s very busy with his girlfriend, frat boy responsibilities (which, God have mercy on me, I kind of wished this movie was more about), and work. He’s so discouraged by the cynicism of the elected officials in Washington that he doesn’t care about Political Science anymore. Understandable, but Professor Redford sees potential in this kid: he’s such a remarkable student that he once somewhat successfully defended an argument in a class! Amazing, I know! The world’s this kid’s oyster. His ability to talk in class completely negates his cavalier attitude and constant s***-eating smirk. When the kid suggests that the old Greek philosophers were far more genuine than our modern politicians, Redford responds, “You ever been to Greece? Their government makes ours look like a streamlined vision of the future.” Wow, what a great, witty statement. And it’s so true that the best way to argue that the Greek philosophers were imperfect is to point out that 2,000 years after they all died, Greece had experienced political turmoil.

"Pull it. The Power of Hubbard compels you."

Back where something somewhat less important is happening, Senator Cruise’s thrilling press conference with one reporter, they’re still arguing. And I don’t mean arguing in the sense that they are making statements of fact in support of their agenda, then responding to each other with further statements that clarify the truth and bring the two people together toward something resembling mutual understanding. I mean that Streep runs through every argument/suggestion/taunt against the war from the past six years, and the film alternates that with Cruise repeating something he heard on the Mike Gallagher show at one time or another. The conversation goes something like this:

Oh, man, he's gesturing! This movie's getting intense!

“Well, the US helped Saddam in the ‘80s, but now we’ve toppled him. That seems like a bad policy.”
“True, but we were attacked on 9/11.”
“Indeed, but we need better armor on Humvees.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that Iran is harboring terrorists.”
“Perhaps, but we have lots of fighter planes and subs that aren’t helping in this particular conflict, so it’s obvious that we should get rid of them.”
“Acknowledged, but Iraq and Afghanistan will be in terrible shape if we leave now. We can‘t abandon our allies.”
“Maybe, but we don’t have as many troops in Afghanistan as we do in Iraq.”
“Touche, but we have better intelligence now.”
“Ah-ha! But this conflict kind of reminds me of Vietnam, and since Vietnam was bad, you lose.”

And an overhead projector! No wonder this thing cost $250 million to make!

And so on. It’s really quite spectacular to see a movie that thinks it riveting cinema to see a fake Senator and a fake journalist arguing about a real war, using weaker versions of the arguments that actually get discussed by real people on television, talk radio, and print every damn day.

"Tom, I hope you understand I can't let this picture leak to the press. You're a good friend, but I can't let my association with you drag down my popularity."

At the front in Afghanistan--which is largely irrelevant because there are no highly-paid actors sitting at desks--Arion and Ernest are waking up after their falls from the chopper. Yeah, they fell out maybe a minute apart from each other, on a fast-moving chopper, which means they landed about twenty feet from each other. In addition to being very cold and Ernest being very injured after taking some flak in the leg, they have another problem. The Taliban knows they’re there, and is sending troops their way. The commander in charge of the operation (Peter Berg) watches them from infrared satellite, struggling to get a rescue chopper their way. Bombers make some strafing runs on the Taliban positions, but since the explosions they cause look a bit less impressive than something MacGyver could manufacture with three inches of duct tape, a toothpick, and a Derek Turnbow bobblehead doll, they’re not doing a good job of keeping the Taliban from advancing.

See, I'm being fair to the movie. I included a picture of the action scene.

Back at the mid-level story in terms of importance, Cruise is starting to turn things on Streep a bit. They’re still going through the laundry list of tired arguments for and against the war, but Cruise has successfully argued that the news media is only slamming the war because it’s popular to do so now, and that back when the public supported the war, they were gung-ho about it too. To which Streep doesn’t really have much of an argument. When Cruise has to leave the room for a minute to take a phone call, Streep fills the empty minutes by looking at all the photos on his wall, which have him posed with Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Darth Cheney, and Voldemort himself, George W. Bush. Didn’t notice Rumsfeld, but otherwise, the photos show that fake Senator Cruise is in deep with the Bush dream team. I’m not sure if the point of this scene was to just show of the Visual Effects team’s mad Photoshop skills, or to immediately negate the fair and accurate arguments Cruise just made by showing that he’s a buddy of people who we all know are the most evil human beings ever.

" I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had bumblebees on them! Gimme five bees for a quarter you'd say..."

Back at University of Either California, Berkeley or Southern California, Professor Redford is telling still-smirking Todd about his former students, Arion and Ernest. Todd immediately reaffirms his status as gifted student by joking about how the name Arion sounds like “Aryon,” which is kind of connected with the Nazis, and it’s ironic because he’s black. At this point, the film becomes only watchable for the .01% chance it will end with Todd getting eaten alive by piranha with rusty teeth. Regardless, Arion and Ernest were not gifted students, but they worked very hard, and argued very courageously, and Redford was proud of them for coming out of tough neighborhoods. But as part of their final school project, when they were tasked with helping to change the world, they enlisted. This wasn’t at all what Professor Redford had intended, since he’s thoroughly anti-war and all that, but while Arion and Ernest took his enthusiasm for activism, they didn’t take his distrust of the military. They figure that serving their country will help them better themselves far more than if they had just gone straight to grad school. And while Professor Redford thoroughly objected to this, he admired their eagerness to make a difference in the world. And why is this story, about black and Hispanic students who chose to enlist in the armed forces, incorrectly in both Redford and Todd’s opinion, particularly relevant to wealthy frat boy Todd? Or more importantly, why is it likely to make him lose his cynicism about government? Uhhh. Hmmm. Welllll. Let’s get back to Tom and Meryl, why don’t we?

"Now, the purpose of a green screen is to project special effects of flying saucers or giant monsters by the time the movie actually reaches theaters, right?"

As the Cruise/Streep interview winds down, with no sign of a fist fight, musical number, or sex scene in sight to pay off all the time we’ve spent watching fake stuffy people argue things we already know, Streep acknowledges that her news company is pushing stories that they think the public will like, regardless of truth. Just as the meeting’s about to end, Cruise gets a phone call that seems to shock and worry him. I imagine the guy on the other end is saying, “Senator, this is Strategic Command. One chopper got shot up as part of our massive offensive, and two marines are missing! It’s all over, man! We’re pulling out! Game over, man! Game over!”

I'm not sure if this is a gesture or a scratch, but the internet message boards are buzzing with speculation.

Streep departs for the news room, looking very troubled. When she arrives, she tells her boss (Kevin Dunn) about the new military strategy, and he’s all excited about the story, apparently under the misconception that the public will care about it. But Streep doesn’t want to report it, because she realizes that Cruise was just feeding her propaganda, and that if they report it, they’ll just be supporting a disastrous military policy all over again. To which I would respond: why the hell do you think it’s not your job to report that a major military offensive is, in fact, taking place? That’s not propaganda, that’s fact. Are you saying that it’s wrong to report a story about what is actually occurring in Afghanistan just because it might support the war effort? If so, thank you very much Robert Redford, by way of Meryl Streep, for supporting the notion that major media organizations are full of self-righteous blockheads who are positive of how their government should work, and will suppress reports on any fact that might lead people toward another conclusion. Regardless, Streep has to decide whether she’ll report the story or, as her boss implies, get fired.

"And that's how YOU can make millions with the three-step plan, working from home ten hours a week!"

In Afghanistan, the Taliban apparently wants to capture Arion and Ernest alive, and the two brave soldiers are running out of ammo. With the Taliban closing in and the rescue chopper nowhere in sight, they decide to stand up and die on their feet. Which they do, successfully. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very sad, and it’s a terrible thing to think about brave soldiers dying for their country. But dude, we saw this coming. If you really thought a severely anti-war movie was going to allow a pair of soldiers, a black guy and a Hispanic guy who had gone Neo-Con instead of spending more time in a California university, to survive the war, you’re a very lucky person. You have the gift of enjoying a lot more movies than I do. It must be so much fun to watch a James Bond movie and not realize the secondary babe is going to die, or to watch a disaster movie and wonder if the cop and geologist, divorced years ago because of their obsessions with work, are going to get back together again.

Sam the American Eagle drives away from his Senate hearing, pondering the future of the nation he loves.

As for Todd, his little talk with Professor Redford ends kind of inconclusively, due to the Professor needing to meet with another student, which gives this subplot the dramatic payoff it so thoroughly deserves. Todd goes back to sit on the couch in the lobby of his frat house--which looks like a ski lodge and has a wide-frakking-screen TV to boot!--and watch headline news on TV with a contemplative look on his face, a sign that maybe he’s going to put his limitless snark and shallow observations to good use and make good on his limitless promise. Hey, with Al Franken leaving talk radio for the US Senate, there’s a gaping void for loud-mouthed left-wing buffoon out there.

At this point, no gesturing was necessary. The emotion was so vivid, it was palpable.

Lions for Lambs presents itself as a deep and even-handed analysis of the recent American policy of military intervention in the Middle East, but it’s actually just a regurgitation of shallow cable TV news sound bytes. The conservatives are Bill O’Reilly, and the liberals are Keith Olbermann. Believe it or not, columnists, Political Science college professors, and Senators are not the people best-equipped to talk about fighting a war. There are a lot of serious people, on both sides of the political spectrum, supporting the war abroad and condemning it. Whose damned idea was it to think that it would be great to make a movie that is 1/3 fake reporter and fake Congressman making cable news-level arguments to each other, 1/3 teacher-student conference, and 1/3 cheaper version of Black Hawk Down? Oh right, director Robert Redford, working off a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan that would have been equally vapid as a novel, but at least more appropriate to its medium. I’ve liked some Redford-directed movies, but the general Hollywood consensus seems to be that if you’re making an anti-war movie, sheer anger is sufficient to replace the very tenets of making a good movie, the first of which is that people talking politics through each other for 90 minutes (which is a lot longer than it sounds) does not make great cinema. If it’s a character study, or at least a movie about real people, that’s one thing, but to watch a bunch of old actors use clichéd characters as sounding boards for their own views (or in Cruise’s case, to pantomime “the enemy”) is a pretty spectacular act of hubris. Ironically, evil Senator Cruise actually makes a fair number of points that, if expanded upon, would make for a strong argument. But in the end, any supposed truth in what he said could clearly be ignored because he’s also an ambitious politician.

The anchor is named Summer Hernandez-Kowalski? Maybe this movie was funnier than I thought.

But at least Robert Redford is on record as saying that he does not like Republicans and he does not like war. Thanks, Robert. You could have just done like Sean Penn and flown down to Cuba to talk to Fidel Castro and say something stupid about America. Oh wait, you did. Well, then you’ve one-upped Mr. Penn. I guess we’ll have the Sean Penn-directed Bad Things Are Bad to look forward to.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

COMING SOON: Lions for Lambs

I suppose the producers felt that Tom Cruise playing a Republican senator was just a good warm-up for him playing a Nazi. They even have the same accents!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

REVIEW: Driven

"Please, Sly. We just need you to look a little more than half-awake while we take the photo for the poster. 60% awake is all I'm asking."

Driven is not really a bad movie. It’s not really a movie at all. It’s an interpretive Slushee of image and sound, a poetic simulation of a migraine headache. Watching Driven helps you experience other ways of looking at the world, such as through the eyes of a nipple-ringed Nickelback fan who’s on his eighth consecutive Red Bull. Being a very conservative person, both in worldview and temperament, I might not be the target audience for this film, but this is a transformative film. I am now a person who has watched Driven.

How many advertisements can you spot in this photo? 0-3: Try harder! 4-6: OK. 7-8: Good job! 9 or more: Fox Sports would like to see your resume!

Driven is a 2001 movie about open-wheeled racing. Knowing next to nothing about car racing, except that I respectfully decline to care about it, I assumed that this was Formula 1, although as the big “racing season” progresses, I don’t believe anyone mentions the name of the sanctioning organization. Turns out that the racing circuit depicted in the film is pretty much fictional, although it’s a combination of Formula 1 and CART, the latter of which went bankrupt shortly after this film was released. Apparently the circuit in the film is in much better shape, because it’s so popular that ESPN covers it intensely, and most of its fans are bikini-topped Spring Break girls. Nothing draws the barely-legal crowd like men in uniforms covered with Pennzoil logos.

Zero chance ESPN would actually carry this over World Championship Poker.

The film opens with something. I’m not entirely sure what, because it sometimes takes me more than .5 milliseconds to process an image, and the editor was clearly afraid that I would get bored if I stayed on the same shot for longer than that, or if the camera were to temporarily not zoom in or out or sweep across an actor’s concerned face. In fact, the opening racing shots, which I managed to recognize as such thanks to the miracle of freeze-frame, don’t move half as fast as the press conference that comes afterwards, in which rookie American driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), who’s clearly innocent and naïve because he wears glasses when he reads and tends not to initiate conversations, accepts congratulations from the press and the legions of sexed-up hardcore racing fans. He’s hot stuff because he’s leading the circuit in points, which is irritating the Terminator-like German reigning champ, Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). Beau is rather heavily invested in his racing, and like any true champion, blames his failures on his fiancee, a pretty block of wood named Sophia Simone (Estella Warren, who has the body of a 23-year-old and the face of a 23-day-old, so she’s a dream come true for many people I don’t ever want to meet).

"What do you mean I'm not mature enough for a serious relationship? I ate all my vegetables and used a napkin the other day!"

The scene where Beau breaks up with Sophia, explaining that she’s bad luck or that he needs to focus or something, features a recurring theme throughout the film. (Well, two if you count Estella’s mission to become the Don Quixote of acting.) While this completely dialogue-driven scene (no pun intended, if that’s a pun) takes place, the soundtrack blares the lyrical song “I’m Not Driving Anymore” by Rob Dougan at a volume nearly equal to the voices of the actors. Now, this is actually the one song in the film that I like, but aside from being thematically linked to the scene only in that it’s nominally about cars, I find it more than a little bit distracting to have a singer telling me one thing while Estella Warren is puffing her adorably huge lips and earnestly trying to tell me something else. This might have been an appropriate time to just have music, not a whole song, but I guess it’s far more awesome to trick the movie out with dozens of unrelated songs from crappy bands than to actually have a score.

As Jimmy watched YouTube, he knew he had to find her. He immediately called his agent and demanded he return with Lisa Loeb's phone number.

Jimmy’s having trouble concentrating on his racing, something I can sympathize with since I have trouble paying attention to it too, and it costs him a race to Beau. His brother-manager, the constantly-pissed Demille (Robert Sean Leonard, and not, as I’d initially thought, the constantly-pissed guy from Underworld), is pushing him to be more savvy with the press, and his team’s owner, the wheelchaired Carl Henry (Turd Ferguson, er, Burt Reynolds, giving hope to his young castmates that they too can enjoy a long career without giving half a crap about acting), wants him to put aside all the distractions and focus on winning. Which I guess would be prudent. Jimmy needs to focus on his training and preparation, which translates to film as sitting poolside and watching simulations play through on his laptop. But he’s starting to date Sophia, who apparently prefers to hang around the racers and hope to hook up with someone else, rather than go home or get a job or something.

Hey, who says the Mac isn't capable of playing awesome games? Check out our port of Gran Turismo 17!

Bly’s failing to finish first in one race has nearly convinced Uncle Burt that the kid’s a lost cause, so Burt goes to his last resort to straighten the kid out. He calls up washed-up racer Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone, adding “race car driver” to the list of things he’s played a washed-up version of) and asks him to join the team as Jimmy’s mentor. In his youth, Joe was much like Jimmy: immensely talented, unprepared for stardom, reckless on the track, saddled with a ludicrously typecast name. Uncle Burt wants Joe to be around so that Jimmy knows what kind of ruin recklessness could bring upon his career. I’m not sure that being incredibly muscular and having a large lakeside house where you fix cars as part of your semi-retirement is the worst fate in the world, but clearly, if Jimmy doesn’t cut out his non-existent drinking, non-existent sleeping around, and non-existent kamikaze driving, he’ll be ruined.

"Tell the director that I will require a 45-minute nap before I am ready to complete this scene."

Joe wants to do more than act as reverse psychology, though. He wants to stage a comeback and race as Jimmy’s teammate. Yeah, he’s got the competitive spirit, eager to prove himself by running interference for the younger, better driver he’s being paid to babysit. He auditions by driving around a track, tossing three quarters out onto the road at regular intervals as he goes around the first lap. As Uncle Burt explains, it’s “a thing he does,” where he’ll perform a controlled skid and pick up the quarters with his tires, one at a time. I think that just completing a lap really fast might have been enough to impress the team, but this way, the film gets to show off its phenomenal computer-generated special effects. Seeing the CGI quarter rattling around on the track will be very impressive to someone who’s never seen a coin in motion before, just as Estella Warren’s performance will impress those who’ve never seen a real-life woman. The scene also reveals that when Joe is really locked in, he hums. Which is a very interesting character trait, I can say with absolute conviction.

I think these two were meant for each other.

Turns out that Joe, speech-slurring old flameout that he is, has more quasi-love interests than Jimmy does. His quarter trick gets him into a relationship with Lucretia “Luc” Clan (Stacy Edwards), a reporter of some kind who’s trying desperately to pretend that being embedded with Carl Henry’s team is some kind of great assignment. Why, if she keeps it up, she might just get enough journalistic respect to do on-field pre-game reporters for the Pirates on Fox Sports Pittsburgh. Joe’s relationship with her mostly involves talking with her kind of coyly at pool tables, the two acting like they kind of find each other interesting. In fact, while the movie has a whole lot of “sexiness,” from both Baby Estella and old fart-friendly Stacy, there’s nothing close to sex, or even spirited making-out. Without going back and watching this movie again (not happening), I’m not even entirely sure I remember a kiss. It’s like the movie was produced by a sect of Miami-based Mormons. The sluttiest thing this movie has is Gina Gershon as Joe’s ex-wife, Cathy, who’s now the wife of Memo Moreno (Christian de la Fuente), the smiling South American overt Christian whom Joe’s pushed to the sidelines by making the team. Because he’s so cheery and religious, I’m certain he will not endure any kind of tragedy in the near future. I’m not sure how such a grotesquely wholesome guy wound up with a woman whose strut and perpetual smirk are all ready to go if this movie ever decides to suddenly reveal she‘s a succubus. Gina Gershon frightens me. If they ever decide to go ahead with that hardcore porn version of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I’ve got the cast started.

"Well met. May the blessings of Nextel be with you, my friend."

With Joe helping him out by cutting off Brandenburg at every opportunity (Shake and Bake!), Jimmy gets back on track, so to speak. However, Brandenburg’s starting to realize that without Sophia, he’s both lonely and always at risk of being the least charismatic person in any given room. The director communicates that he’s lonely through the subtle employment of some montages of her looking cute in his memories while easy listening plays on the soundtrack. Humbled, Beau lightens up enough to ask Tanto for relationship advice and stop acting like an Gestapo officer every time he’s on-screen. Now “driven,” he starts to race better, suddenly rattling Jimmy and getting him to crash into a wall. Now, on this racing circuit, crashing isn’t such a big deal. Pretty much all of the races are depicted as having some kind of spectacular wreck, usually hurling flaming wreckage into the stands, but this one’s serious enough that they actually throw up a caution flag.

"Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? AHHHHHHHH!!!"

Now that Jimmy’s actually starting to act like the temperamental prima donna that Joe was hired to prevent him from becoming (Good one, Rock) and Beau’s acting like a lost puppy, Sophia goes back to her beloved Kraut at a lavish car expo in Chicago. Jimmy doesn’t take this well. Looking to one-up the usual angry sports star routine of choking a coach and holding an incoherent press conference, Jimmy suddenly hops in one of the (fully-fueled) race cars on display and goes on a joyride through downtown. Joe hops in another race car and heads off in pursuit, realizing that this could be something of a setback for the kid’s career. In what was clearly supposed to be the one striking scene amidst all the over-edited track racing and sub-The OC relationship drama, Jimmy races ahead of Joe along public streets, endangering many innocent lives and causing substantial property damage as one “Boy, Are They Going Fast” gag flies by after another: they shatter glass, blow all the papers at a newsstand away, blow up a hot blonde’s dress, and--in truly one of the movie’s most original moments--amaze a traffic cop with the impressive reading on his radar gun. Eventually, the joyride just sort of ends, and Joe scolds Jimmy, telling him that while he obviously pulled this stunt so he could get banned from racing and sent home, he just needs to focus on being the best racer he can, and not worry that his girlfriend found the reigning champion German superman more sympathetic than him. Now, you might think that what Jimmy did would warrant some kind of disciplinary action. You know, reckless endangerment/driving under the influence/vandalism charges. But this is Illinois, and he’s not as bad as the governor, so he’s slapped by the league commissioner with a minor fine and allowed to continue on to the next thematically pointless montage and the next race.

In the French release of Driven, scenes of the Italian and the German collaborating were cut for fear of unnerving audiences.

Noticing that Joe’s appearance in Jimmy’s life has been the same kind of harbinger that a dove is in a John Woo movie, Uncle Burt replaces Joe with Memo as Jimmy’s teammate. This makes Gina Gershon very happy for her cheery cuckold, so she celebrates by lavishing him with sleazy affection in front of everybody, dressed as some kind of cowgirl vampire. But it’s not exactly going to be the best race for Memo. (Yes, I get it: Memo Moreno = Memento Mori. Very clever, movie. And the pulsing music by Fatboy Slim seems reminiscent of a classic Greek chorus, no?) Racing on a German track in the pouring rain, Memo decides that rather than just keeping up and blocking the other drivers, he’s got a real chance to win the whole thing, so he tries to push past Jimmy. Uncle Burt warns him against this over the radio, but Memo is reckless and stupid, getting this notion that he should actually try to win the race he’s been assigned to compete in. He crashes hard and his car gets flipped into a nearby lake. I wasn’t aware that professional racing tracks tend to have water hazards, but I’ll roll with it. Jimmy immediately gets out of his car and rushes to help out Memo, trying to get him out of his overturned car before the spreading fire reaches the gas tank. Brandenburg shows he’s also a decent guy by helping out. The paramedics stop and ask the other drivers for directions or something, because they don’t show up until after Jimmy and Beau have pulled Memo out just ahead of a fiery explosion. As all of this is happening, we’re treated to the deep insights of the ESPN commentators covering this for the sake of the eight Americans who care about non-NASCAR car racing. I can imagine these guys covering the Hindenburg disaster:

"Stallone will never want you. Your mouth's too straight, and Rachel Maddow wants her hair back."

“This is a very scary situation here, Steve. Hitler has got to be concerned about his pilots here.”
“Absolutely, Bob. This is just something you don’t want to see happen in zeppelin transportation.”
“You know, Steve, I was talking with Hitler earlier, and he had said that the key to this flight would be how well the hydrogen inside the blimp resisted catching fire. He said that if the hydrogen ignited, it would be a very long day for the Hindenburg crew. Those are sounding like prophetic words right now.”
“No doubt about it, Bob. It’s like something out of Nostradamus.”

"Ja! Und ve vill be in control of Warsaw before zhey even knows vhat hits zhem!"

In saving Memo, Jimmy sprains his ankle and evokes the wrath of Uncle Burt, who wants to build a team of soulless robot drivers instead of celebrated, handsome young heroic drivers whose public image just skyrocketed. Convinced both that Jimmy’s sprain will prevent him from competing in the next race (which could have gotten him the championship if he were to have won it) and that Jimmy doesn’t have the heart of a champion, Uncle Burt’s planning to leave Jimmy out of the next race and to sign Brandenburg to a contract next season in his place. Because it’s not like Brandenburg’s done all the same stupid stuff Jimmy has, save for the Chicago death race that nobody seems to care about. When Joe confronts the owner about this decision, you know that you’re in for high drama. Remember when Pacino finally confronted De Niro in Heat? That was child’s play. Prepare for Sylvester Stallone one-on-one with Burt Reynolds! The two put on an absolute clinic.

Stallone: He saved a man’s life! Bla-blagha, ghaa!
Reynolds: Grumble, grumble!
Stallone: It’s not fair! Ooogh, gra grabba-augh!
Reynolds: Grumble, grumble!
Stallone: Wagh wagh! Ooowagha!

I don't really have a caption for this picture, but it does vastly improve my Google search rankings.

Even Demille, Jimmy’s own brother, is betraying him, looking to sign a deal to become Brandenburg’s manager. Uh, you know, I’m reasonably sure the guy already has a manager. Probably someone who’s managed a lot longer than his rival’s creepy untalented brother. But regardless, it just goes to show that everyone’s desperate to get away from any association with the rookie driver who’s certain to finish at least second in the worldwide standings.

"A programming note for ESPN viewers: On ESPN, we will continue to broadcast this desperate struggle to save a race car driver. On ESPN2, we will take you live to a press conference where Shaquille O'Neal is in the process of saying something stupid."

Jimmy’s not going to give up that easily, though. After he proves that he can suck up the pain and put weight on his sprained ankle, Uncle Burt decides to give him a chance, driving with Joe. I think he’d have preferred to have still gone with Memo now that Gina Gershon has faithfully proven that she can still get the hots for a paralyzed guy (makes it harder for them to get away when she starts extracting their souls). But after YET. ANOTHER. MUSICAL. MONTAGE, they get around to actually racing. The twist for this race is that for a little while, it actually looks like Joe’s going to win it. He‘s humming, after all. But Sly’s here to cash a paycheck, not to actually lead the film. So after some more suspense-free driving, since all the competing drivers are now nominally good guys, Jimmy comes out as the winner. And Beau’s cool with that after the race, during the awards ceremony. He smiles and laughs. Jimmy smiles and laughs. Joe smiles and laughs. Sophia smiles and laughs. Luc smiles and laughs. Uncle Burt smiles and grumbles. Demille smiles and laughs. Warlock Gina and her crippled slave smile and laugh. Everybody’s happy and there are no winners or losers, because everybody’s happy about something. Including me! I’m smiling and laughing because the screen’s gone to black, the associate producer and visual effects supervisor credits are flying up, and I’m never going to have to see these godawful people or their craptastic musical montages again in my life! Hooray for everyone!

This race brought to you by Digital DNA, a subsidiary of ComHugeCo, a subsidiary of ImagiCorp, a subsidiary of Massive Dynamic, a subsidiary of Cyberdyne Systems, a subsidiary of the Union Aerospace Corporation, in association with the Hanso Foundation.

Driven couldn’t be more painful if its DVD were fired out of a particle accelerator toward my head. Although that would be about 115 minutes and 59 seconds quicker. I didn’t choose to write a review expressing my uncontainable contempt for this movie. I was driven to it.

*Fun Fact: Craft service was provided by “Starcraft.” All the crafts they provided were built on-location, until the filming locations ran out of Vespene Gas.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I don't feel the need for speed, but after watching this film, some dramamine would go down nicely.