It’s a good thing that the people who will want to see this movie are not too concerned about the plot, dialogue or performances, because the people who made the movie were not too concerned about them either. The plot is predictable, the dialogue is even more predictable, and the performances are barely noticeable. They are just there to give the audience a chance to catch its breath between the scenes that they came for, the scenes with very, very fast cars.
Though it never uses the term, the movie is about Formula One drivers, and the script, by co-star Sylvester Stallone, seems to come from movie script formula one, too, with pieces from the various Rocky films transposed to the world of racecars and himself in the Burgess Meredith/Yoda role. What matters here are the racing scenes, and the racing scenes are worth seeing. Director Renny Harlin (who also directed Stallone in “Cliffhanger”) has a gift for putting the audience in the center of the action, and that is where the movie delivers. When not much is happening on screen, Harlin uses flashy cuts and music-video-style camera tricks with film speed to pump a little more energy into the story.
Kip Pardue (“Sunshine” the quarterback in last year’s “Remember the Titans”) plays Jimmy Blye, a talented young driver who is winning a lot of races and may take the world championship title away from the reigning champ, Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger). Beau gets rattled and dumps his girlfriend of three years because she is “a distraction.” Jimmy is coping with another kind of distraction. His ambitious manager/brother (Robert Sean Leonard) is pushing him very hard on and off the racetrack. When Jimmy crashes his car, the team owner (Burt Reynolds) brings in former champ Joe Tanto (Stallone) to provide back up and focus.
There is some story line about which of the drivers the girl really cares about, and something about Tanto’s ex-wife (Gina Gershon, by far the liveliest person on the screen), now married to another driver whom she describes to Tanto as “a younger, better you.” Tanto has to help Jimmy find the part of himself that just loves driving fast (the thing that in “Rocky III” was called “the eye of the tiger” but in this movie is just called “it” or something like that), some choices need to be made, and some old scores need to be settled.
But it is the racing that matters, and that is terrific. Jimmy and Tanto attend a black tie party in Chicago where their cars are on display. In one delirious scene, they impulsively drive the racecars off onto the city streets, slamming around corners, screeching through underpasses, and leaving chaos and admiring onlookers in their wake. The scenes on the track are bone-crunching, heart-thumping, you-are-in-the-driver’s-seat exciting and the crashes are heartbreaking.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong language, smoking and drinking, and tense and scary accident scenes. A character is badly hurt, and another character has been disabled as a result of a racing accident. A character betrays a member of his family and there are other tense confrontations. There are also a lot of girls in revealing outfits, with tiny t-shirts promoting various racing sponsors.
Families who see this movie should talk about how teammates decide when to help each other and when to compete against each other and how to maintain focus on what really matters. They should also talk about the choices made by Jimmy and Beau when one of the other drivers is injured and about why Jimmy’s brother behaves the way he does. They may also want to discuss why people continue to compete in and buy tickets for such dangerous sports, given tragic losses like champion Dale Earnhardt.
Viewers who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Cliffhanger” and two other racing movies, “Days of Thunder” with Tom Cruise and “Winning,” with Paul Newman and Robert Wagner.