Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Down and Derby
Starring Greg Germann and Lauren Holly. Written and directed by Eric Hendershot. Rated PG.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Gravity Pulls

Down and Derby isn’t a race to the bottom, but it won’t win any prizes.

By KRISTIAN LIN

First of all, Down and Derby has a lousy pun in its title. It’s almost as bad as some of the headlines I’ve written for movie reviews past. Worse, it’s a low-budget kids’ movie about a “soapbox derby,” made by a no-name filmmaker whose résumé includes Clubhouse Detectives in Search of a Lost Princess. You have every reason to find this a horrifying prospect. The thing is, it isn’t really that bad. It’s not good, but I have worse times at kids’ movies at least once a month.
The film’s about Phil (Greg Germann), an advertising guy who’s spent his life in the shadow of Ace Montana (Marc Raymond), who always bested Phil academically and athletically in school and now is besting him financially. “What the hell kind of a name is Ace Montana, anyway?” asks Phil, and this touch of self-awareness on the movie’s part is welcome — Ace’s full name turns out to be suitably embarrassing. Phil’s and Ace’s sons both belong to the same Boy Scout troop, which this year is holding the Pinewood Derby, challenging the kids to carve cars out of blocks of wood and race them down a sloped wooden track. This sends all the Scouts’ fathers insane with competitiveness, and Phil turns out to be one of the worst offenders. Building his own track in the bedroom and spending late hours obsessing over aerodynamics, paint chips, and test run times, he eventually drives his wife (Lauren Holly) out of the house and almost loses his job in his quest to finally beat Ace at something.
What’s good about this film? Well, there’s Germann, who’s always at his best playing guys who don’t see how badly they’re behaving. The film is mercifully light on any kind of moralizing; Phil’s son and his friends don’t mope about being shunted off to one side. Instead, they figure out that their dads will give them money for pizza and movies just to be left alone with the models. (By the film’s end, the kids are rolling in cash.) And writer-director Eric Hendershot’s jokes score more often than the ones in these movies usually do.
Unfortunately, all that’s not quite enough to overcome the weight of Holly’s bad performance and a number of tedious farcical sequences like the one in which Phil breaks into Ace’s house to spy on his work, only to have the family return unexpectedly, forcing him to dodge the Montanas on his way out. Hendershot needed to go over the top and satirize the ways in which suburban neighbors can get sucked into a cycle of one-upmanship. This movie, though, never threatens to transcend its roots as a cozy little family picture. Down and Derby is definitely better than other movies of its kind, without ever being truly memorable.


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