The World's Fastest Indian
Rated PG-13, 127 min. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Lana Antonova, Juliana Bellinger, Chris Bruno, Martha Carter, Jessica Cauffiel, Wesley Dowdell, Christopher Lawford.
All one needs to know about Burt Munro, the real-life New Zealand codger and Indian motorcycle enthusiast who in 1967 set a land speed record that still stands today, comes midway through this unabashedly sentimental wall of schmaltz. Chastised by his neighbor for letting his yard grow beyond all reason, Munro finally trims it back a tad by drenching it with gasoline and setting fire to it. “What are they doing here?” he wonders, as the local fire department arrives with all bells clanging. Oh, those vine-ripened Kiwis! It’s a wonder then that The World’s Fastest Indian, which plays off our innate desire to see this wizened iconoclast best the young turks at their own game, works as well as it does. Remarkably, if you’re not misty-eyed and ready to go build your own rocket-cycle out of popsickle sticks by the time closing credits roll around, you’re probably the kind of filmgoer who rooted for scurvy old Mr. Potter over the Bailey Building and Loan. And this despite the fact that you realize every second of the way you’re being blown like a dime-store piccolo. It doesn’t chafe as much when the actor doing the blowing is Anthony Hopkins, who here loses himself so deeply to the role of lovable Burt Munro that all thoughts of Hannibal Lecter are banished from frame one. Munro is prone to peeing on his lemon tree in order not to waste his “natural fertilizer” and spouting Methuselean aphorisms that would have made The Remains of the Day’s butler’s poor head explode. Simply put, this is one of the finest and most transformative pieces of acting I’ve seen in a coot’s age, and one that outweighs the story’s many side trips into what, in the realm of lesser actors, would surely have descended into a treacly mire. Heading out from his New Zealand work shed (where he also sleeps) to race at Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats, amiable Burt encounters a steady stream of oddball characters, all of whom bend over backward to assist the ailing golden-ager in the realization of his dream. There’s the black transvestite night clerk (Chris Williams) he meets up with in “Hollyweird”; not one, but two randy widowers (Annie Whittle, Diane Ladd) whom he beds along the way; a genuine American Indian (Saginaw Grant) who offers him “powdered dog balls” as a cure for his prostate problems; and a helpful Los Angelean used-car salesman played to the hilt by Paul Rodriguez. Various obstacles to Burt’s eventual triumph are scattered throughout the film – rattlesnake attacks and J. Peter Robinson’s outlandishly manipulative score not least among them – but nothing short of Armageddon is able to dampen heroic Burt’s infectious good cheer. His unstoppable can-do pluck is so archetypically American in spirit that it’s a wonder he’s a Kiwi and not some dust bowl refugee on the downside of greatness, but then again American self-mythologizing surely isn’t what it used to be. National pride aside, this fluffy outsider meringue is downright impossible not to swallow.
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