Nice guy finishes first

Posted on 09 Feb 2006 at 9:06pm
By Steve Warren – Contributing Film Critic

Schmaltzy road-movie about age-defying thrill seeker is a smooth ride



EVERYONE LOVES BURT: Hopkins plays a New Zealand charmer who befriends Tina (Chris Williams, right), a transgender concierge at a Hollywood flophouse.

In 1955 ads for “The Glass Slipper” featured Leslie Caron with the tagline, “You fell in love with this girl before. Her name was Lili.”

They could do something similar with “The World’s Fastest Indian”: “You fell in love with this man before. His name was Hannibal Lecter.”

Anthony Hopkins plays another memorably lovable lunatic but not a villain: Burt Munro, an eccentric New Zealander who wanted to ride his motorcycle at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. It had been his dream for 25 years, and he finally achieved it in the 1960s, in his 60s, setting a new land-speed record.

Australia-born filmmaker Roger Donaldson, whose resume includes “Cocktail,” “Dante’s Peak” and “No Way Out,” returns to his original part of the world, at least for the first section of “The World’s Fastest Indian.”

Burt is beloved by almost everyone in his town, especially Fran (Annie Whittle), the bank employee he dates, and Tom (Aaron Murphy), the boy next door whose parents don’t appreciate being awakened by Burt gunning his engine at dawn and try to keep their son from spending too much time with the old loon, who pees on his lemon tree daily.

It’s 1963, and Burt may be about to realize his dream of taking his bike to Bonneville to “find out how fast she will go.”


The bike is a 1920 Scout (the Indian of the title) he’s carefully rebuilt, maintained and souped up.

To stretch a movie, even a leisurely one like this, over two hours there have to be setbacks, like an angina attack that makes his doctor tell Burt to “Take it easy I think your motorcycling days are over.”

“The hell they are!” Burt responds.

Finally reaching the States, Burt charms a whole new group of people, including used car salesman Fernando (Paul Rodriguez) and transvestite motel clerk Tina Washington (Chris Williams). There’s also Rusty (Patrick Flueger), a young airman on leave from Vietnam where he sprays Agent Orange, who thinks the war will be over in six months; and Ada (Diane Ladd, receiving second billing for a six-minute sequence), a woman who has the parts Burt needs when his bike is damaged.

Tina, who doesn’t have the same parts as Ada, is one of the mild culture shocks Burt takes in stride. When he says, “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,” Burt replies, “I thought there was something a little odd about you, but you’re still a sweetheart.”

At Bonneville, there’s another setback: Burt didn’t know he was supposed to register months in advance for the speed trials, and the hard-assed judges won’t make an exception for him: “Rules are rules.”

They tell him he’s too old and his bike is unsafe. With the help of fellow racer Jim Moffet (Christopher Lawford), another new best friend, he’s given a chance to ride unofficially. And one thing leads to another.

An odd note: Burt talks a lot about his twin brother who died when they were children. Nearly a century before “Sesame Street,” their parents named the boys get this Burt and Ernie!

Assuming that everyone knows the Burt Munro story, Donaldson doesn’t try to work up much suspense, just to give you a smooth, entertaining ride to the well-documented outcome and to preach, in Burt’s words, “If you don’t follow through on your dreams you might as well be a vegetable.”

If Burt’s not the salt of the earth, he’s at least the salt of the salt flats. “The World’s Fastest Indian” should be AARP’s movie of the year, if not the decade.



PLEASE, NO MORE “‘BROKEBACK’ HYPE
“Brokeback Mountain” long underwear, vacation packages and Ken-doll cowboy hats are fine. But some marketing queen at Bacardi has lost his mind.
Last week, to celebrate the film’s eight Oscar nominations, a press release announced the invention of Brokeback Moon cocktail. The recipe seems especially unimaginative: 1 part Bacardi Limon, 1/2 part blue curacao, 1/2 part sour; then mix, shake with ice, strain and pour into a martini glass.
What’s next, the Valentine’s Day “Jack and Ennis” bikini-wax and Botox special?

Daniel A. Kusner

WANTED: PHOTOS OF OAK LAWN
Can you capture the spirit of Dallas’ gayborhood? The 2007 edition of the Oak Lawn Library Friends Calendar is gearing up, and organizers are looking for newly taken digital photos. There are slots for 13 images: 12 for each month, plus a cover shot. Images must be 300 dpi. No entry fees necessary. Photographers will be credited. The calendars are free and broadly distributed throughout Dallas. E-mail images to baawells@aol.com or send to Oak Lawn Library Calendar, 4100 Cedar Springs Road. Dallas, TX 75219. For more information, call 214-599-9839. Entry deadline is March 15.
D. A. K.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 10, 2006.

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