Thursday, April 16, 2020

Reserved Seating Presents The Bomb Squad: DRIVEN

by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
The review duo who might not win or lose but will know what they’re made of at the end of this column.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our series looking back at notorious box office failures of the past continues with Renny Harlin’s 2001 race car drama Driven, starring Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote the screenplay), Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, Estella Warren, Gina Gershon, and Robert Sean Leonard. It tells the story of...many stories. Stallone is a has-been wild man champion tuned repentant mentor, Pardue is the hotshot rookie driver, Schweiger his rival, Warren the woman they fight over, etc. I mentioned to you in a text that Driven is like an entire television series condensed into one movie. I read that the genesis of the film was Stallone wanted to make a movie about Formula 1 but he couldn’t get enough intel for his script to have the right specificity, so he switched it to CART racing. At the same time, Harlin wanted to make a movie about Ayrton Senna but things didn’t work out there. Then the two past collaborators (Stallone and Harlin worked on Cliffhanger together) joined up and made Driven. Throughout its making, Stallone pared down his oversized screenplay with most of the cuts removing the focus from his character and turning the movie into more of an ensemble/passing the torch sports film. I saw this movie in theaters and really didn’t like it, but on this rewatch found it to be dumb fun.

This was your first time seeing Driven. What did you think of it?
Rob: I don’t know why, but for some reason I had a really hard time with Driven. Outside of the Stallone-as-washed-up-hotshot-turned-mentor dynamic, I couldn’t keep track of what was going on with each of the different Blandly Attractive Racing Men and was frustrated by the way the movie lazed around in their various dramas. Things would start down one narrative path and I’d be so bored or confused by what was happening that I’d glaze over and need to back the film up and restart the next scene because I’d realize I was looking at a different Racer Man than I was a minute ago. Part of that jittery disjointment must have been due to the massive cuts (According to trivia, Stallone’s screenplay started at 220 pages, and the DVD apparently contains about fifty-one minutes of deleted scenes), which led me to joke to you that Driven feels like it was frantically edited in the car on the way to its premiere.

However, more troubling than the editing issues, the horribly dated early 2000s fart rock soundtrack, and the unfortunate CGI, Driven feels like it was produced by talented filmmakers who just had no idea what they were chasing. It feels very much like what you described in your intro: two ideas stitched together. And look, despite this being his second appearance in this young series, I think it’s safe to say we’re both fans of Renny Harlin. Dude knows how to make an entertaining movie. His reteaming with Stallone (of whom we’re also fans) should have produced something memorable. But this is a movie without a country, a project dogged by a frustrating lack of self-awareness. I know 2001 Stallone was still as confident in his star power as ever, but this is definitely the beginning of his drift into Elder Statesman territory, and it wouldn’t be until after Rocky Balboa or The Expendables that he really started to accept that. That fractured approach to the movie’s center feels like it exacerbates Harlin’s apparent inability to craft an engaging story. Maybe it was an ego thing? You mentioned that Stallone changed the focus away from his character, but it never firmly lands on anyone else, either. I don’t know. It’s possible that I’m being way too hard on Driven; It’s just one of those movies that feels like it was made for no one and released into the world with a shrug.
Adam: I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I found myself enjoying Driven. A better way of putting it is I found things about it to amuse myself. The soundtrack, which alternates between hard rock and sappy country music, is perfect for a movie with this much of an identity crisis and the CGI is off-the-charts PS1 terrible to an amazing degree. I also loved the character names in this movie like Joe Tanto, Lucretia Clan, and Demille Bly. Why can’t Stallone think of real person names? The only area where I’d debate you is that I think this is a Sad Stallone movie where he’s unsure of himself and moping because he’s not awesome anymore. He went through a few stages of this in his career and this one is smack in the middle of his post-Cop Land dry run that lasted until he went back to the well with Rocky Balboa. I read that Stallone was using this movie sort of as a meta “passing the torch” parable of his own career, where he’s no longer the leader of the pack and he’s instilling the next generation with what he’s learned along the way. None of that comes across in the movie because he’s passing it on to Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, and Estella Warren. This movie’s fascinating because it’s clearly meant to be a showcase for rising stars and none of them are up to the task. This is a movie that’s begging for a younger actor to take it and run and none of them do.

Rob: Totally agreed. That’s a great way to put it. I kind of forgot about the Cop Land of it all. Also, Cop Land rules.

Adam: It sure does. I think Warner Bros. was really banking on this movie doing for CART racing what Any Given Sunday did with football. It’s such a busily edited movie. I can’t believe the studio greenlit this with a nearly $100M budget. It seems fiscally irresponsible to give Renny Harlin and Stallone that kind of budget for a movie they had to have known would have a somewhat limited audience. Driven is a fascinating relic of a time when stars and directors had enough clout (even after several financial disasters like Cutthroat Island or Daylight) to get something like Driven made.
Rob: And that's one reason I do feel like we can celebrate Driven, at least a little. Whether it’s successful or not, this movie just doesn’t get made in this way anymore. Here’s the real question (in light of your Any Given Sunday comment): Does Pacino make this movie work?

Adam: I think it would have bumped it up a notch into Two for the Money/The Recruit territory. Driven needed Colin Farrell badly. He’s the guy in the early 2000s you go to if you need a young actor that can handle himself and be positioned to take the reins.

Rank the Renny Harlin filmography. I’m not sure if we’re going to have another Rennyssaince at Reserved Seating so we might as well do that now.

Rob: I have a few gaps, but the ranking of what I’ve seen would go like this (from best to least best, without the benefit of a rewatch):

The Long Kiss Goodnight
Deep Blue Sea
Die Hard 2
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Cutthroat Island
Exorcist: The Beginning

Adam: I’ve only seen eight Renny Harlin films too. Here’s my ranking:

Die Hard 2
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Deep Blue Sea
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Cutthroat Island
The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (sorry Patrick)

Next week, we’ll be back with a new baseball review of the 2014 Jon Hamm star vehicle Million Dollar Arm. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. Last year, I took it upon myself to watch every Renny Harlin movie I hadn't already seen, but I'm still trying to track down his latest two, Legend of the Ancient Sword and Bodies at Rest, both made in China. My ranking would be as follows:

    1. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
    2. Die Hard 2 (1990)
    3. Prison (1987)
    4. Cliffhanger (1993)
    5. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
    6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
    7. Cutthroat Island (1995)
    8. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)
    9. 12 Rounds (2009)
    10. Mindhunters (2004)
    11. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
    12. The Legend of Hercules (2014)
    13. 5 Days of War (2011)
    14. Devil's Pass (2013)
    15. Skiptrace (2016)
    16. Born American (1986)
    17. Cleaner (2007)
    18. Driven (2001)
    19. The Covenant (2006)

    1. I need to watch Prison. I just rented Mindhunters too.

  2. To quote Patrick on this weeks podcast "Every movie is someones favorite". Want proof of Patricks statement. One of my childhood friends I am still close with today considers this his favorite movie. I watched it in theaters off his advice. I try not to hold it against him.