It's big. It's loud. It's stupid. It's fast, fueled by the quickest cuts this side of MTV. It's packed with abysmal dialogue, ham-fisted acting and laughable dramatic sequences straight out of the daytime soaps. It's loaded up with hard and heavy rock & roll, and packed with some of the most stunning racetrack-action sequences and fiery explosions ever photographed. And Sly Stallone is in the thing.
It's "Driven," and it's a sure sign that we're hurtling headlong toward the summer movie season, in which pricey, overblown movies piloted by big stars spin around and around the same cinema screens in a seemingly interminable loop.
Someday we'll get a solid fiction film about the ins and outs of race-car driving -- a credible portrait of the rugged individualists who risk their lives for the thrill of driving at speeds up to 240 mph, and for a shot at the big money offered to winners. "Days of Thunder" wasn't that movie, and neither is "Driven," an overlong, awfully noisy melodrama written by Stallone and directed by his "Cliffhanger" collaborator, Renny Harlin. (God help us.)
The film follows the rise of rookie American competitor Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) on the international CART racing circuit. His chief rival is Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger), a haughty, egotistical German driver with a generic blonde hottie of a girlfriend, Sophia (new "it" girl Estella Warren) and an accent that sounds like Peter Lorre experimenting with helium.
But wait. There's more (or less, depending on how you look at it). Jimmy's manager is his PR-savvy brother, DeMille Bly (Robert Sean Leonard), an ambitious climber willing to do whatever it takes to get to the big time. Joe Tanto (Stallone) is a marble-mouthed, brawny former racing star called back from retirement by paraplegic car owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds, his toupee and plasticized face firmly in place) to serve as a sort of mentor to Jimmy.
Also on the scene is the hot-blooded and handsome Memo Moreno (Cristian De La Fuente), a former rival of Tanto's who's now married to Cathy (Gina Gershon), Joe's ex-wife. A sexy, purring she-demon in skin-tight, zip-up denim, Cathy is a campy delight. And her dialogue is a (probably unintentional) riot.
To Joe, on her new husband: "He's (a younger, better you." And later, after trading claw swipes with Luc Jones (Stacy Edwards), the reporter who only has eyes for Joe: "Saucy! Good for you."
Gershon is in full bitchy mode. Next to the slow-mo collision sequences, she's the best thing about the flick. Nobody does trampy quite like her.
And nobody does big and dumb quite like Stallone, whose character gets to participate in earnest, heart-to-heart talks with several characters. The Italian Stallion's self-penned dialogue is mortifyingly cheesy. Non-sequiturs abound and psychobabble is dropped all over the place.
Jimmy: "I'm just a thing to you."
Joe: "You don't even know who you are anymore."
Still, it will be difficult to beat "Driven" for the sheer intensity of its racing sequences -- including an inane chase through the streets of Chicago -- and the chance it offers to listen to modern-rock tracks at in-concert volume. Director of photography Mauro Fiore's cameras drop us into the cockpits of whirring speed machines, where raindrops pelt across the windshields. Now and then, we're thrown into the midst of spectacular smash-ups, with bits and pieces of metal sailing through the air and drivers turning into flying arrows of flame. With that sort of business going on, who needs a story or actors?