The demon-speedster auto races in Driven have a jazzy fatalistic surge. The director, Renny Harlin (”Deep Blue Sea,” ”Cliffhanger”), is a poor man’s Tony Scott who has never, to my knowledge, put a convincing human relationship on screen, but he showcases the hot wheelers that compete in an international Formula One style championship from what looks like a dozen different angles at once. We get bolted camera, zoom thrust views from the driver’s seat, but also panoramic visions from way up over the track, and these God’s-eye images of the thrill of sheer velocity have the same nihilistic sizzle that the burned rubber ground images do.
The racing footage was shot all over the world, much of it at actual competitions (in Toronto, Chicago, Australia), but wherever the tracks are, we get the same rabid audiences of globalized sensation freaks, the same souped-up machines zipping forward at speeds that approach 250 miles per hour, in a way that makes their movements look supremely light, so that the spectacle of their crack-up becomes as exciting as it is horrific. When one of the open wheel racers smashes against a wall, exploding into fragments that float upward like metallic soot, it seems less a wipeout than a consummation — a car merging with the air, taking ”flight” in its very disaster.
The racing scenes in ”Driven” borrow as much from the ”Mad Max” trilogy as they do from popular car race fables like ”Grand Prix” or ”Days of Thunder.” That’s a good thing, too, since the movie, when it deigns to leave the track, is the essence of revved-up kitsch, complete with the awkward sight of Sylvester Stallone, in one of his ”metaphor for my latest comeback” roles, attempting to swagger like an ageless megastar and take an honorable backseat to the younger players at the same time. Stallone also wrote the script, and the dialogue is studded with hootable steroid pensées like ”I’m not going down in flames with you, brother — that’s one trip you’re takin’ alone!”
An actor by the name of Kip Pardue, as the downy rookie Jimmy Bly, is so unconvincing as a hotshot that he suggests the alternarocker Beck cast as a kamikaze bomber pilot, and Til Schweiger, as his European rival Beau Brandenburg, may be even more humorless than Jean-Claude Van Damme. It would be hard to say, too, who tops whom in the angry overacting sweepstakes: Gina Gershon as a martini sloshing harpie with a curdled smile that practically drips off the side of her face, or Burt Reynolds, wearing so much makeup that he resembles a wax figure of Omar Sharif, as an addled car franchise owner in a wheelchair. ”Driven” is mostly preposterous, and it has no dramatic center, but the racing scenes hold you in their death-trip grip.