Rookie driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is tearing up this year's circuit, already winning 5 races. His brother/business manager Demille (Robert Sean Leonard) is right there with him working out endorsement deals and making sure the press come first, putting tremendous pressure upon Jimmy. Jimmy's winning is also angering former champion Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger) who decides he's not doing very well this year because of his fiancee Sophia (Estella Warren). He breaks up the engagement and she returns his ring, and he immediately starts winning again.
Young Jimmy Bly's team owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) is concerned however because his last few races haven't gone so well, plagued with all sorts of mental errors. Carl is seeing a pattern he's seen before with an old driver of his who destroyed his career by doing the same sort of things. He calls that driver, Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) and convinces him to come out of retirement so he can teach Jimmy how not to destroy his career like he did. Joe agrees and is brought in to replace Jimmy's teammate, Memo Moreno (Cristián de la Fuente).
The side story here is that Joe's ex-wife Cathy Heguy (Gina Gershon) is now married to Memo, the driver that Joe replaced.
The first race Joe is in comes down to the wire with Jimmy leading and Brandenburg a close second. Jimmy can't seem to pull away from him so Carl has Joe pit and holds him there until the leaders are about to come by. At the last second, Joe leaves the pit just in time to block out Brandenburg, allowing Jimmy to win the race. Jimmy is back in the winners circle once again and his brother Demille is right there with him. However, Demille doesn't like Joe and doesn't want Jimmy talking to him. Beau and Joe talk about his decision to break it off, with Joe urging him to re-connect with her; Beau, puzzled, asks him what Joe would do in his position to get Olivia back, and Joe responds that he would "crawl on his hands and knees" if that was what it took.
At a bar one night Jimmy meets Sophia and they hit it off right away. They start going out and a jealous Brandenburg can't stand it. It seems like Sophia really hasn't gotten over Brandenburg yet. One night at a party in Chicago, where the prototypes of next years cars are being introduced and all the drivers are there, Brandenburg gives Sophia her ring back and they are together again. She apologizes to Jimmy but he is so upset that he takes one of the new cars and races it out of the convention center. Joe hops into another of the new cars and chases him down the streets of Chicago.
Carl decides that bringing back Joe isn't successful so he reinstates original driver Memo.
The next race is a road course in Germany and it's another close one with Jimmy and Brandenburg fighting it out for first. Memo is supposed to be there just to protect Jimmy because he just needs one more victory to be crowned this years champion. Cathy gets on the radio and convinces Memo to "go for it" and Memo starts working his way up to third but when he tries to pass Jimmy, he clips him and Memo ends up in a horrific crash that sends him flying through the air and crashing into a lake on the far end of the course. Jimmy does a quick u-turn and drives his car to the lake and dives in after him. Brandenburg does the same and the two of them rescue Memo.
Carl, angered by Jimmy making the rescue by giving up securing the championship, decides to replace Jimmy with Brandenburg for the next season and negotiates a deal with Jimmy's brother Demille who will now represent Brandenburg. With Memo now hospitalized, Joe is racing again as Jimmy's teammate. It looked like Jimmy wouldn't be able to race due to an ankle injury but Carl finally decides to clear him for the race. Demille tries to get Brandenburg to sign the new contract but he rips it up. Sophia asks Demille how it feels to be used, and Jimmy now knows the truth about his brother.
It's now the final race of the year and either Jimmy or Brandenburg can win the championship with a victory. It's another action packed race and in the final laps Joe has taken the lead but by avoiding an accident, goes flying through the air, lands safely but damages his axle. He can't block for Jimmy now and the two leaders pass him on the final lap. It's neck and neck coming down to the finish. Jimmy is starting to have a mental lapse, but then he hears Joe's words of wisdom and in a long slow motion sequence, we see Jimmy beating Brandenburg by just a few inches as Stallone crosses in third while doing donuts in his now out of control car. Jimmy is the new champion and the film ends with he, Tanto and Brandenburg, together on the podium drinking champagne.
The movie was filmed at a variety of races which were sanctioned by CART at the time. Between 1997 and 2001, open-wheel racing in the United States had suffered an overall loss in popularity due to the breakaway of the Indy Racing League. Not long after the release of Driven, CART lost top teams and races to the IRL; eventually CART went bankrupt and was rebranded as Champ Car in the 2003 off-season. Several of those events, including Chicago, Motegi and Detroitnow appear on the Indy Racing League schedule after Champ Car was dissolved in bankruptcy in 2008. The German race was suspended after CART competitor Alex Zanardi lost his legs in a crash with Alex Tagliani with 13 laps to go. Zanardi would come back to finish those 13 laps in a specially modified Champ Car when CART made its first (and last, to date) appearance at the EuroSpeedway. It should be noted that in Driven, the German race took place on a road course, but in fact, the CART race is on an oval.
Williams has also had a penchant for cutting drivers loose still at the top of their game during the 1990s. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost never defended their drivers' championship with Williams, as did notably eventual 1996 World Champion Damon Hill before the season concluded. Similarly, Henry contemplates terminating his rookie driver's contract at several points during the season as he feels he's not tough enough to cut it in the cutthroat business of racing. Williams did follow through to sign the arch-rivals of Mansell and Prost to the team for the upcoming season, despite the objections of his drivers who ended up opting to quit rather than partner their nemesises; similar to how Henry wants to sign Brandenburg to replace Jimmy.
Beau Brandenburg is perhaps similar to Michael Schumacher, whose relatively cold public persona and dislike of the celebrity spotlight did not endear him to the tifosi (that was only the case in his first couple of years) and the British and Italian press ; Brandenburg is initially cast in a similar villinous light (indeed, Schumacher was often criticized by the press and public for crossing the fairness line to win, notably causing collisions at the season-ending races in 1994 and 1997). Schumacher was also known for his demanding work ethic and devoting long hours to the team; Brandenburg ended his (distracting) engagement so he could return to his winning ways. Around 1997 and 1998, when Stallone thought of making a movie based on F1, Schumacher was a former drivers' champion trying to win the title again only to fall short both season; Brandenburg is also an ex-champion wanting to regain his former glory. However, Schumacher did make the sacrifice of moving from current champions Benetton to Ferrari, which was a non-contender at the time, abeit for a then-record salary. Brandenburg, however, is distracted by his engagement. Both Schumacher and Brandenburg's teams have a similar red livery.
The movie was a commercial failure, and grossed only $32 million against a $72 million budget. Nonetheless, it fared better than director Harlin's 1996 film The Long Kiss Goodnight, and the critical and financial failure, Cutthroat Island, but wasn't as successful as his previous film Deep Blue Sea.
The movie received poor reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes consensus saying "Underdeveloped characters, silly plot dynamics, and obvious CG effects." When Jay Leno appeared as a guest critic on the television show Ebert & Roeper, both Leno and Richard Roeper described Driven as the worst car film ever made, and a terrible depiction of auto racing.
The movie later spawned a video game of the same name, which, like its silver screen counterpart, was met with little success.
|2001 Golden Raspberry Awards||Worst Picture|
|Worst Supporting Actor to Sylvester Stallone|
|Worst Supporting Actress to Estella Warren|