American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Whether they admit it or not, fans go to auto races to see crashes, and they'll see a lot of them in "Driven." Cars slam into walls, tumble upside down, come apart in the air, land in water, explode in flames, fall on top of other cars and disintegrate. So serious are these crashes that one of the movie's heroes injures his ankle. No one is killed, I guess. There is a horrible multiple-car pileup in the final race, but it serves only to clear the field for the movie's stars and is never referred to again.
Most of the crashes are apparently done with special effects, and there are subtle moments when you can tell that; a car in the air will jerk into split-second freeze-frames, or pieces of sheet metal will fly toward us more slowly than in real life. But we get our money's worth; the races consist of quick cutting between long shots of real races, closeups of narrowed eyes behind face masks, closeups of feet pushing the pedal to the metal, point-of-view shots of the track (sometimes in a blur or haze), the crashes and the finish lines.
Director Renny Harlin, an expert at action, has made better pictures ("Die Hard 2: Die Harder"), but delivers the goods here and adds a wall-to-wall music track that pumps up the volume. He cuts almost as quickly in the dialogue scenes; his camera, often hand-held, circles the actors, and sometimes he cuts after every line of dialogue. The music continues. "Driven" is a movie by, for and about the Attention Deficit Disordered.
Sylvester Stallone stars, and wrote the screenplay, which was originally inspired by his desire to make a biopic about the Brazilian racing great Ayrton Senna, who was killed in 1994. The first drafts may have contained bio, but the final draft is all pic, and the characters are off the shelf. Stallone plays a hotshot retired driver whose comeback problems are quickly dealt with ("What about the fear?" "The fear is gone"). Burt Reynolds is the wheelchair-bound owner of a racing team. Til Schweiger plays the defending champion from Germany. Kip Pardue plays a rookie phenom, in a role once penciled in for Leonard DiCaprio. And Robert Sean Leonard is the phenom's brother, required to utter the thankless dialogue, "I saw this 8-year-old goofy-looking kid on a go-cart come from three laps behind to beat kids twice his age." Think about that. Three laps on a go-cart track. At Captain Mike's Go-Kart Track in Sawyer, Mich., where I practice the sport, you don't even get enough time to fall that far behind.