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‘Ferrari’ picks the wrong Driver for Michael Mann’s car-racing vehicle

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — After the highly enjoyable “Ford v. Ferrari,” looking at the other side of that combustible equation appeared to have potential. But “Ferrari” doesn’t click on all cylinders, featuring a miscast Adam Driver as the automotive mogul, in a Michael Mann-directed movie with some arresting moments that add up to less than the sum of its parts.

Playing racecar driver-turned-tycoon Enzo Ferrari at an age about 20 years older than he currently is, Driver at least gets additional use out of the Italian accent he adopted (mastered would be going a bit too far) for “House of Gucci” on his personal cinematic tour of Italian luxury brands.

After a quick introduction, the film skips over lots of seemingly dramatic terrain to pick up in 1957, a decade after Ferrari started the company in the ruins of post-war Italy. That point finds him at a particularly vulnerable moment, with a major race in the offing and the company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy – far from the titan that Ferrari represented a few years later in the aforementioned “Ford” movie.

As an added degree of difficulty, Ferrari’s work troubles are intertwined with his personal ones, since his tempestuous wife (Penelope Cruz, easily the best thing about the film) holds the financial keys to his kingdom, and she isn’t particularly happy about his mistress (Shailene Woodley) and the son he’s raising with her, who Ferrari wants to eventually bring into the business.

Part of the drama also hinges on Ferrari’s rivalry with Maserati, which will play a vital role in determining the company’s future.

Driver certainly throws himself into the role, with his hair gray, pants hitched high above his waist and the gait of an older man who spent a lot of time crammed into tiny racecars. Still, it’s Cruz who steals the show, well aware of her husband’s philandering and mostly concerned that he sneaks into the house before the maid arrives, while shouting things like, “I want my gun back!”

Alas, “Ferrari” doesn’t operate on Cruz control nearly enough. In some respects, the most enticing aspect involves placing Mann – a producer on “Ford v. Ferrari,” but more significantly the legendary director of such films as “Heat,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Thief” – behind the wheel, directing his first film since “Blackhat” in 2015.

Unfortunately, the result proves strangely listless, failing to develop the storylines surrounding Ferrari’s driving team. Without giving too much away, a visceral sequence near the end comes close to redeeming what’s gone before it, offering a taste of the dangerous business of auto racing as well as the better movie this could have become.

As is, with its slim characters, that bracing dose of technical virtuosity simply isn’t enough of a payoff for this kind of prestige-seeking vehicle. While the movie’s accessories no doubt looked promising when it was still on the lot, “Ferrari” only occasionally gets out of neutral.

“Ferrari” premieres December 25 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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