Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The World’s Fastest Indian
Starring Anthony Hopkins. Written and directed by Roger Donaldson. 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
Old Salt

The motorcycle wheels fall off The World’s Fastest Indian

By KRISTIAN LIN

The title of The World’s Fastest Indian doesn’t refer to a sprinter from Delhi or a Navajo reservation. Instead, it refers to a product of the Indian Motorcycle Company of Springfield, Mass., the oldest manufacturer of such vehicles. (I guess that makes the movie the most blatant example of product placement since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.) The film re-tells the true story of Burt Munro, a grandfather from the tiny town of Invercargill, New Zealand, who liked to race with his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, an ancient machine that required the rider to operate it almost lying face-down. A do-it-yourself type, Munro made some unorthodox modifications to his bike, including cutting off the tire tread with a hunting knife and making his own motorcycle parts in a backyard smeltery. These modifications worked: In 1967, at the age of 68, he raced his motorcycle on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats at a speed of 183.586 miles per hour, breaking the world record for his vehicle class.

Fellow New Zealander Roger Donaldson was a personal friend of Munro, who died in 1975. Donaldson found his way to America in the 1980s and made his name directing junky but occasionally entertaining pictures such as No Way Out, Cocktail, and Species. Returning to his native country and paying personal tribute to his eccentric and remarkable friend, he delivers a film that’s much more warmhearted than his Hollywood stuff. Too bad that doesn’t make the movie any better.

Anthony Hopkins plays Munro, and he’s in almost every scene. At this point in his career, Hopkins has three modes: Wise Old Mentor, Raving Old Man, and Hannibal Lecter. He’s firmly in the first mode here, working in a shaky Down Under accent and stopping this two-hour movie dead every so often to deliver a speech about the importance of having dreams and living life to the fullest. As Munro makes his way through America, he effortlessly makes friends with everyone he meets, from a lonely widow in New Mexico (played acceptably by Diane Ladd) to a drag queen at an L.A. motel (a character who doesn’t belong in the movie) to an Indian (and here “Indian” means “Native American”) who gives him a good luck charm. The real-life Munro apparently had this kind of charisma in spades, and Hopkins tries to approximate it, but his charm has always been of the smooth variety, and he’s no good with rough-hewn bonhomie.

Even if he were, it’s not clear that he could have salvaged a picture so in thrall to sports-movie clichés. Donaldson the writer telescopes real events so that Munro breaks the record on his first trip to Bonneville — in reality he had gone there several times before his history-making run. I’m not qualified to say what else Donaldson does to the facts, but the story as a whole feels prepackaged and formulaic. It’s safe to say that an unruly genius such as Munro deserves a more fitting tribute than this.


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