Driven (2001)

After making Judge Dredd, Sylvester Stallone got interested in the world of auto racing.

He said of the film’s concept, “Racing’s very much like the world of acting. You have your front runners and you have guys that are there for the long race, and you have other guys that block for other people, that are called supporting and character actors. It’s all the same kind of situation. And you realize that you can’t always be number one. You just can’t be the guy in front all the time. So what you can do is lend support to, and help and nourish and encourage someone else. So it’s like your experiences live on in someone else. If you can find some young actor and you can say, “Listen, don’t do this and don’t do that and avoid this and that,” and share your experiences, and he does succeed, you can say, “You know what, I kind of contributed to that.” As an actor did you have to learn you can’t always be number one the hard way. Unfortunately, I did.”

Although this film was a commercial failure, it brought Renny Harlin back after his fiasco Cutthroat Island. He and Stallone had teamed up before for Cliffhanger. It was also a critical failure, nominated for seven Golden Raspberry awards and earning the ire of Jay Leno, who told Richard Roeper that it was the worst car film ever made.

In the middle of the 2000 Champ Car Season, rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue, Remember the Titans) is in the lead with five big wins. But the pressure is getting to him, thanks to his brother and business manager Demille (Robert Sean Leonard, TV’s House). It’s also put him directly in the crosshairs of reigning champ and teammate Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger, Inglorious Basterds), who is also dealing with the distraction of his fiancee Sophia (Estella Warren, 2001’s Planet of the Apes).

So Beau decides to dump her and he starts winning again. However, Jimmy has a big crash and needs an older driver to be his mentor, so team owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds!) brings back former champion Joe Tanto (Stallone) to replace Memo, another driver who is now married to Joe’s ex-wife Cathy (Gina Gershon). Whew — the drama is already started, but what do you expect from a movie with the tagline “Welcome to the human race.”

Joe’s just supposed to be a blocker, but when he learns that Jimmy is getting with Beau’s ex-fiancee, he tries to use his experience to fix things. It takes a car crash that nearly kills Memo to bring everyone back together and be friends.

Jimmy ends up the champ, with Beau in second and Joe in third. Everyone celebrates and I cheer on the credits, which finally freed me from this film. Stallone’s original script was 220 pages and Harlin’s first cut was four hours long, so while I often want a film to give more time, I was fine with this movie ending when it did.

If you know racing, one would assume you’ll love all the real racers showing up, but I would imagine so many of the details, like Joe throwing coins on the track to touch with his car, are absolutely ridiculous. Then again, this is supposedly a trick that trick real-life Formula One driver Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina used to perform.

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