Unsatisfying but not aggressively awful
Written: Jul 14, 2012
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: OK
Pros:Car scenes, direction, Schweiger
Cons:Script, Pardue, Warren
The Bottom Line: The car crashes are cool, the screenplay is a mess, and box-office suggests revheads didn’t like it, either. Mediocre stuff.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Kip Pardue is a rookie race car driver having a pretty good season, though team owner Burt Reynolds thinks he’s making too many errors that might see veteran former champ Til Schweiger leave him in the dust soon enough, especially now Schweiger has dumped his apparently distracting fiancé (Estella Warren). For help, Reynolds calls upon veteran driver Sylvester Stallone to come out of retirement, join the team, but also mentor Pardue. This results in the dropping of Stallone’s buddy Memo (Christian De La Fuente), and earns the scorn of Memo’s wife Gina Gershon, who is also Stallone’s bitter ex. Meanwhile, Pardue and Warren start dating, leaving Schweiger bitter and despondent. There’s also Pardue’s sponsorship-obsessed manager and brother, Robert Sean Leonard, who feels out of the loop now that Stallone is around. Stacy Edwards plays a reporter snooping around for a story, who takes a shine to Stallone. Brent Briscoe plays a member of Pardue’s pit crew.
This collaboration between director Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2”, “Cliffhanger”) and writer-star Sylvester Stallone flopped on original release, as did just about anything Stallone touched from the late 90s onwards (Truth be told, Harlin and producers Elie Samaha and Andrew Stevens aren’t reliable names, either. Nor Burt Reynolds and Gina “Showgirls” Gershon). Like “D-Tox” and the remake of “Get Carter” (which wasn’t half bad), it’s not an outright terrible film (and I’m rather surprised that at least the revheads didn’t flock to see it), just a mediocre and disappointing film from a period where poor Stallone seemed stuck in a rut of mediocrity. Unlike the flat “D-Tox”, however, Stallone must take most of the blame for this one. Harlin’s direction is actually pretty fine, and indeed the racing scenes are well-staged. Some say the CGI was obvious, but that’s more due to the spectacular nature of the crashes than with any visible artificiality in the FX. At least these scenes keep you awake (even me, who hates anything car-related), the rest is competent but pretty worthless.
For the most part, it would appear that Stallone had envisioned Kip Pardue to be the main focus of the film, with he, Burt Reynolds, and Brent Briscoe essentially alternating playing the Robert Duvall and Randy Quaid roles from “Days of Thunder” (the film basically being “Days of Thunder” meets “Rocky”). Unfortunately, the Reynolds and Stallone characters feature too heavily, making the film far too cluttered for its own good.
What really bothers me is that I get the impression that Stallone got bored sitting on the sidelines for much of the film, and has re-written the script to make just about everyone and everything serve his character, including Pardue. I heard that Stallone originally envisioned the film as a bio of fallen driver Ayrton Senna, would he have dared re-write Senna’s life to serve his own ego? Don’t get me wrong, Pardue is appallingly miscast and boring- he looks like a Mathlete (not to mention a young Bill Gates), but this whole film reeks of Stallone stroking his own ego at the service of a film with a genuine focus. If Stallone is essentially playing the Mickey role here, what’s weird is that his scenes with Reynolds play like their own version of Rocky and Mickey, with Reynolds in the Mickey role there. It’s entirely unnecessary, though Reynolds is better here than in most films, and more likeable here than in anything since “Evening Shade” (i.e. He seems to have his ego in check for a change here). The reporter character, played by an unimpressive Stacy Edwards (who?) is there solely to play off Stallone. The charismatic Gena Gershon, a genuine talent if ever there was one (“Showgirls” notwithstanding), fares even worse. Despite being the ex-wife of Stallone’s character and now moved on to another driver, she’s made out to be a bitter harpy whose only function in the film is to scowl at Stallone. No woman is allowed to get over Stallone! Later, Stallone even manages to save a teary hospital bed visit for himself when it is clear to anyone, that Gershon should’ve had this scene, not him. That just ain’t right. Gershon’s too hot and too talented to be so poorly used. Stallone’s role as a driver is pointless too. It’s as if Stallone just couldn’t help himself and didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. Fine, do it on your down-time, don’t put it in the actual movie, because it serves no actual story or even character purpose. At least Harlin merely gave himself a cameo role as one of the drivers. If anything, Stallone should’ve pulled a Mickey in “Rocky III”, which would’ve allowed Reynolds to essentially take over (but stay in the background, at the service of Pardue).
The other big problem with this film is that there is practically no conflict in it, aside from what goes on inside Pardue’s mind (And since Stallone clearly isn’t interested in Pardue...) So we have a car racing film where all the conflict is basically internal. Oh joy! The character played by Til Schweiger (in easily the film’s best performance) is painted so half-heartedly that as a villain he ends up like Michael Rooker in “Days of Thunder”, without a Cary Elwes to take over. He isn’t a bad guy, just a stoic, humourless, somewhat jealous guy- a typical sportsman, really. The scene where he joins Pardue in saving a fallen comrade, whilst the right thing to do, just didn’t seem believable to me. He’s a selfish jerk, not entirely hateful, but hardly the type to stop and selflessly go and save someone else and lose the race. It goes completely against everything his character has been built up to be, just because Stallone doesn’t want us to totally hate the guy. In a way, that works against Pardue, too, it takes away some of his ‘heat’ (to use a wrestling term) as a good guy, because his antagonist isn’t seen as all that bad, now. It’s also the one adherence to reality you almost wish they stuck to, because you just want them to continue the damn race and battle it out. I guess you could argue that Gershon and jerky Robert Sean Leonard are the villains, but neither are drivers, so they don’t add anything to the tension or conflict. Leonard, in fact, doesn’t play a one-dimensional role, he’s playing a percentage of a one-dimensional role, and gives a half-hearted performance to boot. So in addition to being concerned with a sport that simply isn’t very cinematic (because the cars just go round and round, and round- and then what?), the film’s got no real bloody villain to add conflict to the story (despite it being about competition). It’s all well and good to make a film that pays tribute to these wonderful drivers, but what the hell are we supposed to be invested in if there’s no conflict? Stallone, that’s what. What an ego.
In addition to the inadequate Pardue (I don’t suppose race drivers need to look like bodybuilders, but still, the guy’s invisible), former synchronised swimmer Estella Warren doesn’t come close to giving Nicole Kidman a run for her money (and Nicole did not have a career highlight in “Days of Thunder”). Unlike Pardue, she does have at least one talent- synchronised swimming- and Harlin has her display this in one scene. So at least she’s good for something. Her character, however, is, like all the others, poorly written. Her relationship with Pardue ends up being entirely pointless. They aren’t a long-term romantic pair, there’s only lip service paid to a love triangle before the whole thing gets dropped, so...the point? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Like I said earlier, Harlin (whose “Cutthroat Island” was also a big-a**e flop) really shows his stuff in the racing scenes. I may not find the sport itself terribly cinematic or interesting, but Harlin makes the most of it. Even the most utterly ridiculous scene where Stallone chases after an angry Pardue in racing cars through busy city streets is at least energetic and exciting stuff. It’s completely f**king absurd, but kinda fun and well-shot. There’s also really cool race footage during heavy rain. I don’t know how realistic that is, but it’s well-done. Harlin uses shaky-cam minimally and coherently, and it’s entirely understandable given anyone who has watched even two minutes of real race footage knows that it’s often shaky-cam stuff from the driver’s POV. So Harlin and his cinematographer Mauro Fiore have done a fine job. The big, show-stopping, car crash is bloody well done, too, even if the subsequent rescue is problematic.
This film isn’t appalling, but it’s pretty poor, mostly due to a screenwriter-star with a monstrous ego. Two woefully wooden lead actors don’t help, either, nor does my complete lack of interest in the sport. But I honestly don’t think it’s any better or worse than “Days of Thunder”.
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