Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Watching Driven has been one of the easiest and hardest thing we’ve had to do for this column. Easy because it really only has two scenes in Toronto and they’re both super obvious. Hard because it’s a Sly Stallone vehicle about car racing that’s about as cliché as you could possibly imagine.
Worse, it’s directed by Renny Harlin. This is the man behind perhaps one watchable movie (Die Hard 2) as well as one of the biggest bombs of the ’90s (Cutthroat Island). He’s also responsible for at least two guilty pleasures: Deep Blue Sea (a.k.a. The One Where Sam Jackson is Eaten by a Shark in Act One) and the Toronto-shot The Long Kiss Goodnight.
If you’ve ever seen a movie where someone is climbing through a vent mysteriously filled with steam and slow-turning, backlit fans, there’s a decent chance Harlin was involved. He’s like Michael Bay without the serenity and restraint, and when your job involves grabbing screencaps that’s annoying.
Now that we’ve got that off our chests…Driven. Well, it’s about racing. So, Toronto’s big moment comes during the Toronto Indy (née Molson Indy) which, somewhat amazingly, is playing itself.
It means we get some lovely shots, like this one, looking at the Ex over Ontario Place…
,,.then showing the roof of the Direct Energy Centre and the city beyond (hey, the SkyDome roof is open!)…
…and panning down to the racetrack segment in front of the Princes’ Gates and the old Automotive Building (now the Allstream Centre).
There is some artistry at work, as shown by this nice framing of the Princes’ Gates.
We also get to see (at lightning speed, mind you) bits and pieces of Lakeshore Boulevard and CNE architecture, like the Queen Elizabeth Theatre here.
Bless their souls, here’s a shot that actually makes an effort to frame the CN Tower!
Before the race even kicks off there’s a high-energy montage of race stuff and, this being anything but a classy joint, it quickly devolves from teary, patriotic shots like this….
…to shots of the people of Toronto enjoying themselves…
…over and over…
…again. Can you feel the civic pride? Can you feel the machismo?
Look, it’s Burt Reynolds! True story: Reynolds was pissed at his agent after he filmed Boogie Nights, thinking it was crap. This would be before he got nominated for an Oscar. Two years later he was back doing stuff like Driven. Don’t let the Man keep you down, Burt!
And hey, look, it’s Robert Sean Leonard! We guess between quality stuff like Dead Poets Society and House dude needed some paycheques. We won’t judge.
After the race is a press conference within the lovely art deco confines of the Design Exchange. As opposed to the over-exposed Distillery District, this place is one of those gems that pops up in films every now and then and makes us go, “Oh, yeah….we sure do have some nice architecture here.”
When that’s all done, the movie moves off on its pointless globe-trotting adventure. Except, this being a very realistic film, there’s a bit when they’re in Chicago and Sly and a rival driver decide to be all manly and go tearing through the streets in their race cars. Enter Toronto, but this time, in disguise!
The race isn’t quite geographically consistent, Toronto-wise, but we’re not entirely sure it makes sense in the movieverse either. Basically the whole thing is tearing up and down University, near Queen.
But first we get a little more post-modern feminist humour from Harlin et al. The race cars tear down this street so fast that they blow this lady’s skirt up and, get this, you see her underwear!! The point? She’s standing outside the Royal Alex (note the Mamma Mia! poster).
As for the main race, watch quickly and you’ll see the Hilton, and a bit of the Canada Life tower…
…and the tower’s famous beacon.
Even the Osgoode TTC station.
Just how realisitic is this scene? So realistic that they do the old gag where a police officer catches them on the radar gun (going 195 mph). Then he calls for backup, but when they get out of their cars at the end of the hullabaloo there are helicopter lights but no actual police on site. In the meantime, they stand arguing on University’s median….
…with no reason to fear arrest, and we get to see the Hilton again. Whoopdee do.
We like a good bad review, so let us leave you with the words of the New York Times‘s A.O. Scott:
A do-it-yourself at-home multimedia version of Driven might be approximated by setting an arcade-style video game alongside a television set and switching back and forth between ESPN and MTV while watching a 12-year-old boy, wired on Mountain Dew, hurtle around a virtual racetrack.
Actually, this experience might be an improvement over the movie, since it would produce a comparably juiced-up sensation of speed and disorientation without the dead weight of a half-dozen utterly predictable, often indistinguishable plots and subplots or the horrifying spectacle of actors crashing and burning as they bellow their way through stupefying speeches about faith, will and pure victory.