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Sly and Co. Run Out of Gas and Ideas

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2001

   


    'Driven' Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds in "Driven." (Warner Bros.)
Sylvester Stallone becomes the Yo-duh of the open-wheel racing circuit in "Driven," a drag of a car-crash movie directed by his "Cliffhanger" collaborator, Renny Harlin. Stallone, who wrote the redundant, humorless and overlong screenplay, portrays the sagacious, saggy-faced mentor of a rookie overwhelmed by sudden fame.

Besieged by sportswriters, autograph-seekers and corporate sponsors, Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is on track to win a world championship when he goes into a spin and falls behind the defending champ, Beau Brandenburg (Germany's Til Schweiger). There's only one thing to do, reasons racing impresario Burt Reynolds: Call in the Hummer (Stallone), a reckless hot-dogger who earned his nickname because he hums in the face of danger.

Hummer assumes he's been called back to race, and he's chagrined to discover that instead he's been hired to tutor the high-strung wunderkind. But the smell of the oil and the roar of the crowd is enough for now, so he takes the kid to his muscled embrace. Jimmy's cutthroat manager and brother (Robert Sean Leonard) stands in Hummer's way, but he's soon sucking the wily veteran's exhaust.

At first Jimmy pooh-poohs the wisdom of Hummer's homilies: You've got to run your own race, rev your own wheels and hum your own hum. Most important of all, you've got to have faith: "It's like a good disease. It's contagious." May the Ford be with you.

Yet when the going gets tough on the track, Hummer's advice echoes in Jimmy's ears. (It's a wonder he can hear a thing, what with the movie's bone-rattling soundtrack.) But as Jimmy soon learns, the race does not always go to the man with the most maxims. Beau wins again.

When they're not on the track, the characters race through insignificant relationships with other human beings. Beau dumps his luscious fiancee, Sophia (model Estella Warren), and Jimmy makes his move on the girl. Hummer has lost his love (Gina Gershon) to another driver and gives Beau, Jimmy and Sophia a lot of helpful advice. Happily, Hummer later hits it off with a sportswriter (Stacy Edwards) so clueless she probably thinks a crankcase is a grumpy old man.

All these complications are like pit stops squeezed between the movie's nine races, which come at you in a souped-up barrage of track-related whoop-de-do: screaming tires, spectacular collisions, cheering crowds and sexy groupies lovingly consuming foot-long hot dogs.

Harlin is to nuance what Stallone is to new ideas: He hasn't got any. The material offers but one source of suspense: If Reynolds dares change expression, will his excruciatingly lifted face explode like a fuel-injected melon? He looks like a honeydew with hair. While comely, the supporting players possess the acting chops of traffic cones and, seemingly, IQs lower than the speed limit in a school zone. The exception is the underappreciated spitfire Gershon as Hummer's sarcastic ex-wife.

Of course Stallone depicts himself reverentially. He's just so darn lovin' and givin'. He even sacrifices his own ambitions for his callow colleagues. At one particularly chivalric moment, the announcer tells the crowd, "I guess we all learned a little something from the Hummer today."

Yes, there are two lessons here: One, skip the movie, and two, find out who Reynolds's plastic surgeon is and don't make an appointment.

"Driven" (117 minutes) is rated PG-13.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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