So Stallone took on a new sport, or is that returned to the racetrack after Death Race 2000, with this naughties effort. He got his old Cliffhanger director buddy Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) to direct. Harlin was on the down and out at this point and has still really to make an impression to find his way back. Driven didn’t help matters.
I’m gonna start with the cast as they are largely a big part of the problem. Kip Pardue is frankly miscast, too young and stuck with a character who we couldn’t give a damn about. His driving right from the get go is abysmal you often wonder how the heck his character got into these races, other than to overcome being totally shit. He doesn’t even have a decent enough psychological issue worth bothering with. In fact the more this guy fucks up, loses, crashes and so on, the less you want him to win. Burt Reynold’s team leader at one point is ready to dump the kid and I’m waving my arms in front of the TV crying “YES! For the love of god, someone finally had a bright idea.”
He also has the most annoying name in history. And it is the kind of name you expect a sports person to have. Jimmy Bly is a name you will get sick of as you hear commentators say “Jimmy Bly” this and “Jimmy Bly” that, and “Jimmy Bly’s going to have to pull something out of the bag here” or “Jimmy Bly has started to lose control”…”Jimmy Bly, Jimmy Bly, Jimmy Blugh!”
German actor Til Schweiger (Inglorius Basterds) is probably the better actor – but trapped inside the role of bad guy “Schmuck”. His main issue is that he is the main competition and is usually winning (and rightly so). But he’s a bit self centred and has just dumped his Girlfriend as she is a distraction, but he may love her really. Her bright idea is to stalk these drivers across the globe like a road groupie, come onto the other guy but eventually get back with the guy she originally wanted. In other words she plays real trash. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear a band fav of mine called Hooverphonic make it onto the soundtrack when Pardue cracks onto her in a bar.
Estella Warren is the girl in question. And she seems to have walked straight from the catwalk into the role of acting for the first time, and does such a good job that Marky Mark decided to go out with her after she was cast in a role that required her to say as little as possible in Planet of the Apes. Since then she’s… Well we hope she’s well.
Robert Sean Leonard steps in and proves that he is still number one in the annual Jim Carey lookalike contest. He also had the more interesting role of managing his onscreen brother, Pardue. There were interesting remarks – like telling his brother to only answer questions from certain journalists at press conferences is a tiny peek into the world of media exposure and press handling which I found fascinating. Still it aint that kind of film, but I appreciate the nugget.
Burt Reynolds, fresh from a bit of facial work, looks the worst he ever has on screen. It seems his job involved every part of his face except the eyes and forehead being stretched. It may not be saying much for surgery, but at least it’s art?
Gina Gershon also pops up as Sly’s ex (I believe we also got to see her in Red Heat) and she’s largely forgettable here too. And the man himself is around to well, play middle man between grump execs, angry women and the race track itself. Sly is the link to everyone and everything going on in this film and he has to carry, mend and open dialogue for many of these characters.
I can honestly say that when I first saw this on the big screen and not being much of a racing fan, I found this film pretty good fun. Yeah ok it’s predictable – but that’s the characters fault. The racing itself was a step in a different direction as the camera got to get right down there on the track.
The films daftest sequence comes when Bly takes a stroppy burn round the city in his race car, followed by Sly’s old hack. Quite why this spoilt brat of a driver (and Sly for that matter) don’t get the immediate boot from racing, and turned over to the cops is a mystery.
But thankfully the racing gets better as the film goes on with a good mash up crash in the penultimate race which sees out antagonistic racers being brave and helping a brother out. And the final race gets to see Sly do a nifty bit of spinning across the finish line.
Still it all feels very anti-Rocky by the end of it. A hyped up loser who wins by sheer luck in the end, has everything many comforts in life, spoils every chance he gets at life, but wants more anyway as a result – and then has stroppy outbreaks when things do go his way or he doesn’t get a girl.
Well we can’t win them all, but at least it tried. Schwieger went onto Inglorius Basterds (after Tomb Raider 2), Pardue got a great montage sequence in The Rule Of Attraction travelling round Europe, and Sly got Rocky Balboa and Rambo out the locker.