Scott Hardie | September 19, 2001
As frenetic and exciting as the sport itself can sometimes be, Sylvester Stallone's CART racing movie "Driven" delivers a great deal of turbo-charged suspense in its two hour running time. For years, video games have given us driver's-seat racing experiences with throbbing techno soundtracks; now comes a Hollywood effort with a $72 million budget.

At the center of the plot is a young phenom (Kip Pardue), who has the talent to go to the top but needs a mentor's guidance. In a reflection of Stallone's age, he still gets top billing, but plays the supporting role of the mentor, who has the wonderful action-movie name of Joe Tanto. It's difficult not to imagine a younger Stallone playing the phenom, and the movie graciously puts Stallone behind the wheel in another car in most of the driving scenes, even if the kid is the star.

The phenom's primary opponent is the reigning champ from Germany (Til Schweiger, possibly the best actor in the cast), who is reticent and cold but hardly a villain. The movie doesn't have a villain in its entire stock of characters, though Stallone's stingy ex-wife (Gina Gershon) certainly aspires to the position. When two men get into a fight over the same woman, they even manage to apologize afterwards.

In a movie like this, the actors can of course only do so much. The point is the racing scenes, which manage to be more involving than the dialogue scenes despite their inherent lack of content. There's the usual abundance of quick cuts to the pedals, the steering wheels, the front bumpers, the track, the crowd, the managers, the girlfriends. But director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger") is one of the most instinctively talented action directors in Hollywood, and he finds a way to keep each racing scene riveting even when we know how the plot formula demands it turn out.

Also excellent are the crash scenes, which of course accompany most of the race scenes. The cars here are sometimes glaringly computer-animated, but the glory of the spectacle makes up for it: In one outstanding shot, the camera spins around the car in slow motion as it goes airborne, loses some of its parts, and crashes on the track in the path of oncoming cars. One important crash late in the movie takes its toll on a supporting character, and the main characters' reactions immediately following it, while conventional, are still moving. They may be heroes by the demands of the formula, but they're still heroes.

The movie's sole weakness is its lack of character development. The actors do what they can with nuances and facial expressions, but none of the characters emerge with real personalities. Some characters, including Stallone's manager (Burt Reynolds) and girlfriend (Stacy Edwards), are so useless that the movie should have cut them out entirely. If "Driven" had spent just five more minutes on character development, it would be recommendable as a movie. At least it contains a few exhilarating action scenes.

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