TV Review: Stephen King’s ‘Big Driver’

Big Driver TV Review Lifetime

“Big Driver,” an odious new Lifetime movie, hides behind Stephen King’s brand and the credentials of its cast — per the billboards, “Golden Globe nominee Maria Bello! Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis! Grammy nominee Joan Jett!” (Um, huh?) — to peddle tired exploitation nonsense, in the form of a simpleminded revenge yarn. While Bello is a gifted actress (and this really plays like a one-character study much of the time), as vehicles go, it’s more of a garbage truck than anything else, which probably won’t prevent the King come-on from rewarding the network with sizable ratings.

Like a lot of the author’s stories involving writers, from “Misery” to “Secret Window” (in which Bello, incidentally, co-starred), “Big Driver” hardly revels in the milk of human kindness. Rather, Bello’s Tess Thorne — the author of a popular string of old-ladies-solve-crimes mysteries — is horribly abused, then improbably decides she must not report the incident, but rather should seek vengeance alone, seemingly more for the cathartic benefits gained by the audience than for anything approaching logic.

Tess’ tale begins innocently enough, with her having been recruited to appear at a book-signing and speaking event in an idyllic-looking town. Yet after being given very specific directions by her hostess (Ann Dowd, taking her own version of a wrong turn after splendid work in “The Leftovers” and “Masters of Sex”), Tess follows a short-cut that results in her being stranded, with a flat tire and no cell reception, in the middle of nowhere.

A huge but kindly looking fellow (Will Harris) conveniently comes along, at first offering assistance. But that’s a ruse, and Tess is raped, beaten and left for dead, and tossed into a drainage pipe faster than you can say “Shawshank.”

Directed by Mikael Salomon from an adaptation by Richard Christian Matheson, these scenes, while disturbing, are probably no more graphic than they have to be, given the context. It’s on the road that follows that “Big Driver” breaks down, as Tess eschews medical attention or calling the police, vaguely worrying about a “scandal” because of her celebrity should she go public with her account.

“No one is going to know about this,” she says to herself.

Instead, she grabs a gun out of the closet and begins plotting payback, receiving counseling from one of her imaginary characters, played by Dukakis.

Yet if the idea of a mystery writer using those wiles to track down villains has potential, as constructed here, it amounts to little more than a Google search and connecting a few rather obvious dots. In the process, Tess encounters a helpful bartender (Jett, in what’s little more than a cameo), before the climax, which is not as satisfying — or for that matter, morally challenging — as it should be.

From the casting to the marketing, Lifetime appears determined to lend a touch of class to exploitation dreck. And the sad truth is that strategy will probably work, to the extent the movie dovetails with Lifetime’s much-lampooned old women-in-peril movie niche, once one gets past the marquee names.

Such commercial considerations notwithstanding, in the wake of a recent run of cynical Lifetime movie topics, from “Saved by the Bell” to Brittany Murphy, “Big Driver” runs into another creative dead end.

TV Review: Stephen King's 'Big Driver'

(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. Oct. 18, 8 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Ostar Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Bill Haber, Jeffrey Hayes; co-executive producer, Richard Christian Matheson; producer, Michael Mahoney; director, Mikael Salomon; writer, Matheson; based on the story by Stephen King; camera, Steve Cosens; production designer, Eric Fraser; editor, Michael Doherty; music, Jeff Beal. 120 MIN.

Cast

Maria Bello, Will Harris, Joan Jett, Ann Dowd, Olympia Dukakis

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  1. terri says:

    The movie scared me.but overall was Good.

  2. Well I enjoyed it. Kept us watching. Lighten up critic.

  3. Joe W says:

    Almost didn’t watch because of Lowry’s garbage comment, but glad I did. Love to see justice.
    Far better than other King movies (Cujo, Firestarter, Phantoms). Lowery seems skeptical a victim wouldn’t call the police; as a former prosecutor and brother to 5 sisters, I’m impressed by the few who do call. The imaginary characters are a good tool to create dialogue and add an air of instability so that the movie doesn’t come off as advocating Vigilante justice for all the sane people in the world.

  4. Barbara says:

    I really liked this movie. It was believable. The characters were genuine. Maria Bellows was great. I was engrossed for 2 hours. Sure its themes gave me pause a few times but, as a major statement on the ills of society? Some commenters should just lighten up. It’s Steven KIng. It’s a thrill ride and it works. Two thumbs up!

    • Barbara says:

      Favorite scene: When she does the mother in the belly like Richard Widmark. Favorite Line: “Don’t ever tell a writer that their work is crap. It bring out the worst in them.”

  5. Thank you for writing an honest review……she abandons the other women all for revenge. She was cowardly to NOT step up to the plate…but instead WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA where’s my gun?????
    It was ALL about her…….and her image.
    What a tiresome flop…….
    but what more can you expect from Lifetme home of chick flicks???

  6. Kat says:

    I don’t think it was his best movie, he should have been brutally murdered in the movie due to a horrific rape brutally rap scene. Although never fails it seems to me the movie falls short in areas i guess i expected alot more.

  7. Rebel G says:

    I don’t know. Wasn’t at all what I expected and thought was it JUST for “shock”, which wasn’t, “brutality” which was too “same ol same ol”, the lazy ‘I’ll let the watching public end it for me’ O Henry cop-out and relying heavily on getting King fans, which had his name NOT been tagged to it, this would have just slipped right on by. Disappointed AGAIN from the “Master Of Horror”, which he isn’t any more. However, I know die-hard fans of his who liked this. So I think it’s more about following, taste, etc… Mr. Lowry speaks the truth. We’ve gone past the 1970/80s, Mr. King.

  8. Sinkwriter says:

    SPOILER ALERTS for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet!

    It was a disturbing film (and should be, given the subject matter), at times I thought it was too heavy-handed (how can no one help her, especially given her appearance??), and I think the story might have made more logical sense if she had gone completely crazy from the brutal violence she’d experienced. In some ways, it seemed like she was already a bit “off,” as we saw her talking to her GPS and imagining her own character giving her advice, but given that she seemed intelligent and clear-headed when talking with her friend and the book club, that other behavior just seemed to be the quirkiness of a novelist. After seeing her mentally separate from herself during the violence, I thought maybe that was demonstrating that her mind was now fractured and the retribution actions of the rest of the film would be because she had lost her faculties. But she was in almost complete control, and in the end seemed sane, so… I’m not sure what to take from the story.

    On the one hand, I’m very glad she got revenge on that sadistic rapist and murderer. It was a fantasy for all victims who have ever been brutalized. On the other hand, it seemed like the story didn’t delve deeper and could have. No one helps her, even after seeing her appearance? No men in the story are decent or compassionate; they’re all murderers and rapists or suspicious strangers in a convenience store? In the beginning is Tessa clear-headed or quirky or crazy, or all of the above? When she’s been attacked, has she then lost her mind? Or is she amped up on adrenaline and hyper aware of everything, not crazy? Ultimately, I felt like the story did what it needed to – it showed the horrifically ugly nature of rape and violence against women, and gave viewers a highly sympathetic character (played by the very talented Maria Bello) to root for, all the way to the predictable yet satisfying ending. But I guess I was expecting more of a Stephen King twist, like perhaps after everything, we’d see that the revenge part had just been a fantasy in her broken mind, as she walked to safety, or that the fantasy then sets her off on a real rampage, or… something that would surprise me as a viewer. Then again, I probably would have been really mad if she hadn’t gotten revenge on the guy, or if she’d been arrested for it rather than getting away with it. So perhaps this is the necessary and satisfying ending, and the twist comes from the momentary panic that “this is not over” when the bartender calls Tessa and says “I know what you did”… until we relax when we realize the woman is just calling to say “Well done.”

  9. Anita Schommer says:

    I didn’t understand the end of “Big Driver”. It went so fast I was unable to know what happened. Does Tess get away with murder?

    • Sherry says:

      Anita,
      Yes, I believe she gets away with it. At first, it would seem that things are not over, given that start of that final phone call (“I know what you did”) but then the caller proceeds to say “Great job” (or whatever her exact words were, I’ve forgotten) so I think that’s the end of it. The caller was the bartender Tess met along the way when she was trying to find Big Driver, the woman who also had been brutalized years ago, so she was calling to say good job for getting the guy who hurt you. That was my take on the ending, anyway.

    • Shari Beil says:

      Anita,
      Classic Steven King, always leaves you wondering. Allows individual imagination. I think, Tess never leaves her house and lives life through her characters, which aids her in making thoughts and imaginations for her next novel.

  10. Shari Beil says:

    Once again Steven King does not disappoint. As I sit and watch for the second time, why not a series? The ENDLESS shows of detectives, forensics, affairs, stalkers, etc have been over used it’s time to move on and Steven King has plenty of mind blowing thoughts!
    I agree with Drew, it’s out there so take it and run!!!

  11. drew says:

    more cable channels need to get gritty and graphic with content aka, AMC,the walking dead, breaking bad, we’re not a society of marshmellow clouds and marmelade skies anymore! lifetime should be no exception to the rule! granted the “she-women man haters club” approach to their programming seems to appeal to the lonely, frustrated housewives and keeps them glued to theirs seats! however this approach to mainstream entertainment has become isolating and devolving our female population into drone-like fembots, never satisfied until they view on a daily basis the degrade that apparently is thrust upon them by the opposite sex! it’s no wonder THE AMERICAN FAMILY ideal seems to be a thing of the past! to say nothing of the moral fabric of the american dream! WAKE UP PEOPLE and deal with the violence and language portrayed that happens everyday before our eyes! we just won’t admit it!

    • King hasn’t a clue what it means…and what it means also to those who are abandoned to someone like him……….so someone can protect her precious image.
      What she did is what so many women do. It is why so many
      monsters like him roam freely.
      You can’t allow them to get away with it no matter.
      Useless flop

    • hydrabadchik says:

      ok, so – “More cable channels need to get graphic and gritty” because “we’re not a society of marshmallow clouds etc.”

      uhuh – however at the VERY same time: THE AMERICAN family ideal is a thing of the past” and so is “the moral fabric of the American dream” – because women watch too much TV where men are abusive to women.

      So exactly what kind of graphic grittiness on cable needs to increase??

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