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 na├»ve 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.

1 comment:

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