Driven (2001)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Til Schweiger
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Special Effects Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew

Films concerning athletic events have to be considered one of the most enduring genres in the world of movies. Despite some recent box-office disappointments ("Summer Catch"…anyone?), Hollywood continues to churn out more sports movies every year. Why? Because there’s nothing like vicariously sharing in the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" portrayed in these films. "Driven" is the latest movie in this long tradition to hit DVD and gives us a glimpse into the world of auto racing.

"Driven" focuses on the world of Indy Car racing. Young rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) has one five races and has a chance at winning the championship. However, he then loses to Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger), his main competition. Fearing that Bly may be on the edge of blowing the season, team manager Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) calls driver Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) out of retirement to help coach the kid. However, Tanto isn’t happy about this arrangement, as he feels that he can still win races. Also displeased, is Bly brother and manager Demille (Robert Sean Leonard), who feels that other people only want to corrupt Jimmy. It is now up to Jimmy Bly to decide if he can handle the pressures, which come along with being a top driver and find the strength within himself to win the championship.

While this sounds like the typical sports film scenario — underdog must fight to win the final victory — there is little more going on in "Driven". The film also deals with what goes on behind the scenes of the racing industry. We get a look at Cathy (Gina Gershon), Tanto’s ex-wife, who is now married to another driver. And there is Sophia (Estella Warren), a young woman who is engaged to Beau, but attracted to Bly as well. Also, "Driven" explores the business aspects of the sport, as Henry does whatever it takes to create a winning team, even if that means double-crossing old friends. "Driven" is a film about more than just fast cars.

However, "Driven" could have been much more. The film proves that Renny Harlin is, as usual, a gifted visual director. The racing scenes have a great look to them, especially a chase through the streets of Chicago. Harlin is able to squeeze a lot of kinetic energy out of the film, and the pace is quite brisk. By combining live races with CGI effects, Harlin is able to put the viewer right on the track. (He also puts us right in the face of every scantily-clad woman at the race track.) But, this brisk pace leaves the moving feeling very hollow and soulless. Of course, Harlin isn’t known for making incredibly emotional movies, but in the past, with efforts such as "Die Hard 2" and "Deep Blue Sea", there was enough excitement on-screen to forgive the lack of emotion (and often, logic.) Here, we only given quick peeks at the characters lives, therefore their actions seem very foreign and distant to us.

It would be very easy to blame all of this on the screenplay by Sylvester Stallone (based on a story by Jan Skrentny & Neal Tabachnick), but this DVD reveals that blame lies elsewhere. The DVD contains twelve deleted scenes (more on this in a moment) in which there is a great deal of dialogue and character development. It’s obvious that the filmmakers had three choices; 1) make a movie about racing; 2) make a movie about racers; or 3) make a 2 1/2 hour movie about both. While one can easily understand why the choice was made to go for the action film, the movie suffers for it. Would those deleted scenes have made the movie a classic? No, but they would’ve helped it make more sense. On a positive note, what little we do learn about the characters in "Driven" is interesting. No one fits the typical sports movie stereotypes here, and it’s not until the end where we actual get a true antagonist character. Many of the characters aren’t who they appear to be at first, and this does lend some drama to the film. "Driven" isn’t horrible, and fans of auto racing will surely enjoy it, but don’t expect to be challenged by the story.

"Driven" races onto DVD from Warner Home Video. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1 and the transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. As mentioned above, Harlin makes pretty movies and this transfer surely does justice to his vision. The image is very sharp and clear, with little grain or contrasting. There are no defects evident from the source print, nor is there any distortion on the image. The framing appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the frame. The fleshtones are natural, and the colorful racecars almost leap off of the screen. There are no overt problems from compression or any noticeable artifacting. This transfer is a clear winner.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack on the "Driven" DVD, also does well in the race, but it does have some problems. I noticed some slight shifts in volume during the film, where the dialogue was, at times, drowned out by the sound effects. As expected, the sounds of passing racecars fills the speakers, with the engines producing a nice rumbling bass in the subwoofer. Also, "Driven" features a driving rock soundtrack, which also sounds great. Still, I found myself with remote control in hand, ready to adjust for the sometimes muffled dialogue.

While not a special edition, the "Driven" DVD offers some nice extras. We start with an <$commentary,audio commentary> from director Renny Harlin. Those of you who’ve heard Harlin’s other commentaries will find this one no different. He is clearly at ease speaking about his films, and does nice job of balancing technical information with lighter "behind the scenes" fare. Harlin does get off-topic at times, but otherwise, this is a solid commentary. Also offered on the DVD is a 15-minute featurette entitled "The Making of Driven". This is one of the best "making of" featurettes that I’ve seen lately, as it doesn’t have an overly polished and corporate feel. What we do have is Harlin and Stallone being quite honest about how they went to real Formula One races and snatched as much footage as they possibly could. We also get interviews with the cast, where they speak openly about the making of the film. While not the 100% honest behind-the-scenes feature that I’ve always wanted to see "The Making of Driven" does give a realistic and humorous look at the hectic world of filmmaking.

"Conquering Speed Through Digital Effects" is a 10-minute featurette examining the CGI effects in "Driven". This short is somewhat interesting, but they spend too much time discussing a particular shot, which was ultimately deleted from the final film. I realize that these artists want credit for their work, but this goes on for about 5-minutes! Speaking of deleted scenes, the DVD contains the 12 cut scenes mentioned earlier, which run for a total of nearly 50 minutes. Stallone provides an introduction to these scenes, and they can be viewed with or without commentary from Sly. Again, these scenes are mostly dialogue scenes, but some are rather interesting. The extras are rounded out by the theatrical trailer and selected cast & crew bios.

While "Driven" will never win any Oscars, the movie isn’t a total loss. The racing scenes are good, but we are teased with the idea of having interesting characters. The DVD features a stunning transfer, but some viewers may experience audio difficulties. I can’t recommend that DVD fans race to get "Driven", but it may be worth a test drive.