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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2001

Don't they just drive you crazy?



Driven

Rating: * * Director: Renny Harlin Running time: 116 minutes Language: English Now showing

Cars! Babes! Money! Explosions! You'll get all of these in one huge dose in "Driven," a film that dares to flaunt all the things feminism has been trying to stamp out for the past 20 years.

Sylvester Stallone and Kip Pardue in "Driven"

But that's OK, since no feminist will be watching this anyway. Directed by Renny Harlin ("Cutthroat Island," "Cliffhanger") and penned by/starring Sylvester Stallone, "Driven" is a cliquish, boys-only kind of movie you wouldn't want to take your date to for fear of being labeled dumb, prehistoric and chauvinistic -- all of which apply to Sly himself. A girlfriend of mine says that if terrorists ordered her at gunpoint to go on a date with either Sly or George W. Bush, she'd go for George. If it was Sly or ex-Prime Minister Mori, she'd beg for time to think about it.

Oh, Rocky, you were real cute when it was just you and Yo! Adrian in that rinky Philadelphia apartment. Now you've become like a salesman who's doomed to make the same pitch over and over, trying to convince us that a man's gotta do what he's gotta do and you're the man to do it. You could at least change the mantra a little. Change it to: Boys will be boys. That's the bottom line for this movie.

"Driven" is the second Stallone/Harlin collaboration since "Cliffhanger," and, as you might expect from the duo, there's a lot of budget dollars splashed all over the screen -- a lot of explosions, glass smashed into smithereens, flames rising and blackening the sky. A lot of provocative babes saying things like: "So? Do I look good? Huh? Do I?" with hands on hips.

The pride and glory of an F-1 racing team is what this is all about. Besides Stallone, there's Til Schweiger, Burt Reynolds and Kip Pardue, among others, all of whom look gorgeous in racing gear, have just the right hair for helmets and aren't required to say much. In fact, one of the first scenes in the movie has Schweiger ditching his girlfriend because he wants to concentrate on racing for now (or something). She cries and makes the usual passionate speech, demanding to know what she had meant to him all the time that they were together. His response: "Distraction." Ooh! Boyspeak.

Having said all this, one can't help loving "Driven" for the same reasons one can't help loving boys. A terrible truth, but there it is. Can't help loving Harlin for inserting shots of braless racing groupies blowing kisses every 10 minutes, or being touched when Stallone gives Pardue a tiny, cheap trophy and delivers the line: "I got that for the first time I won, when victory was pure for me, real pure." And even if you're not a racing fan, Harlin plays up the glamour until he almost convinces you you should be: the incredible turnout in the stadiums, the hair-raising hairpin curves, the do-or-die aesthetics of the drivers. As for those giant mosquito noise that the cars make on their laps -- well, you may not learn to love it, but you will certainly learn to forgive it.

The other thing about boys is that they will always be in close range of girls. And Harlin made sure he had just the right number and variety: Estella Warren (former face of Chanel No. 5) as a team staff member (what kind of work she actually does remains a mystery); Gina Gershon as the mean and saucy ex-wife of Stallone, now remarried to a rival driver; and Stacy Edwards as the cool, smart journalist who becomes Stallone's new love object. These women never stray from their neat, boxed-in roles, but it's a positive pleasure just to watch them for their skintight outfits, their gestures, the way they always seem to pout, whether they're pouting or not. They are at once the products and purveyors of boy fantasy, and, boy, do they look good in this backdrop of cars and cash and firework displays. Warren is especially a vision of tumbling golden hair and half-closed blue eyes and other things that could send the less hardy shakily to a chair, handkerchief pressed to damp forehead.

The trouble with "Driven" is that it never gets beyond this point and this point peaked in the second reel of what is a two-hour movie, leaving you plenty of time to ponder about what in the world induced you to see the thing in the first place. By the time the credits roll, you will have exhausted all the possibilities for joking with the title: "Driven Nuts," "Driven to Tears" (courtesy of Giovanni Fazio), "Driven Off the Cliff-Face of Sanity," "Driven Around and Deposited on the Curb by Dumb, Chauvinistic Ape." Still, if nothing else, it's a ride. Seat belts, please.



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