Everybody alive in the 1980s remembers the splashy impact of John DeLorean’s infamous stainless steel car in pop culture. From being regarded as a joke due to constant breakdowns to being given new life as the hero car of 1985’s Back to the Future, the DMC DeLorean has earned a dubious place in modern American history. It was the jet set dangling itself in front of anyone who had a television, beckoning us with shiny gullwing doors and the promise of prestige.
And then… the downfall, so comedically detailed in Driven, in which John DeLorean is made into a near-mythic, omnipresent figure. Lee Pace strikes a beguilingly magnetic tone as DeLorean, possessing a seething single-mindedness which only pokes through his saleman-cool exterior a handful of times. You know it’s there, and you’re never fully comfortable with DeLorean as he strides through scenes with a confidence borne of experience, anger, and near-narcissistic drive.
DeLorean’s presence throughout this film can only be likened to a packet of Kool-Aid being dissolved in water. Even though we no longer see the powder it once was, we see its irreversible effects upon the water in color and taste. The water in this analogy is Jason Sudeikis’ Jim Hoffman, the man responsible for helping the FBI entrap DeLorean in a massive drug scheme. This deal was supposed to net DeLorean a considerable amount for him to pay off his mounting debts and keep his factory open.
Driven takes a lot of cues and vibe from 2017’s American Made, in which we follow another airline pilot working with the CIA to destabilize foreign governments and operating a side hustle with the Medellín Cartel as their mule. Both stories are framed with their central characters providing a short snippet of context for the scenes to come – in Driven’s case, it’s Hoffman’s court testimony – before flashing back to a dramatized version of events. Here, the frame story starts with Hoffman walking into a courtroom being coached by FBI handler Benedict Tisa (Corey Stoll), who only cares about nailing DeLorean, treating Hoffman and his family like nuisances.
Truth be told, Hoffman is a nuisance, partly because we find Jason Sudeikis doing his normal Sudeikis thing – which, for this film, isn’t a negative. Much like his character in We’re The Millers, Sudeikis makes Hoffman adapt quickly to everything thrown at him, making new possibilities out of tough situations with improv mastery. He’s an ingratiating bug who won’t go away, quickly becoming a member of DeLorean’s trusted inner circle over the protests of his longtime advisors and friends. Sudeikis’ well-practiced charm and goofy self-deprecation comes in handy for his fish-out-of-water performance, almost being a blood relative of what Tom Cruise does with Barry Seal in the aforementioned American Made.
Colin Bateman’s script gives off a bit of a fast, loose, and party-ish vibe, with Hoffman being shoved into DeLorean’s rock-and-roll lifestyle almost immediately. Lee Pace performs John DeLorean sympathetically yet enigmatically, drifting in and out of the film at his own whims. This is solely Hoffman’s story, told entirely through his eyes; maybe we’re seeing DeLorean as sympathetic because of Hoffman’s regret about setting his friend up for a fall.
Driven doesn’t go too far either way and portrays most of its characters in a favorable light, which is this film’s major shortcoming. We’re cool with DeLorean, but only because he’s become the film’s anti-hero and victim. Hoffman is a worm wriggling his way through ever situation by playing different sides, juggling his loyalties to his wife Ellen (Judy Greer) and his newfound friend John while the FBI’s breathing down his neck. Both Sudeikis and Pace are the only reason we stay with the film through its middling indifference, watching the two of them bounce enjoyably off each other on their way down.