Somewhere deep inside “Driven” — Nick Hamm’s based-on-real-life crime caper — lies a fascinating movie. We catch glimpses whenever Lee Pace, playing the automobile entrepreneur John DeLorean, gilds his ho-hum dialogue in unexpected layers of foreboding. And we hear it crackling through the F.B.I. sting operation that would lead to DeLorean’s 1984 trial for drug trafficking. To make that movie, though, would have required a less glib tone and an infinitely more focused script.
Hamm’s first mistake was to spin his vintage cars-and-cocaine story around the more shallow and less compelling of his two leads, a slippery crook named Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis). Caught smuggling a planeload of coke, Jim becomes a reluctant informant for the F.B.I. Around the same time, he and his oblivious wife (a perky Judy Greer) also befriend DeLorean, a California neighbor whose fledgling company is experiencing cash-flow problems around his famously winged, stainless-steel car. Maybe Jim and his sleazy supplier, Morgan (Michael Cudlitz), can help?
Filmed in Puerto Rico through the ravages of Hurricane Maria, “Driven” is a good-natured, divertingly jolly mess. Sudeikis does likable schlub with the best, but it’s Pace, magnetic and mysterious, who tugs at our attention. As he showed in the underloved AMC drama “Halt and Catch Fire,” he excels at playing charismatic visionaries whose dreams can be their undoing. His ability to convey complex emotions with absolute stillness lends his DeLorean an aura of tragedy that deepens and darkens the movie’s confectionary colors.