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Originally published Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 3:07 PM

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‘Snake & Mongoose’ fuels nostalgia for ’70s drag racing

A movie review of “Snake & Mongoose,” a low-budget biopic about two drag-car racers who lucratively promote their rivalry.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘Snake & Mongoose,’ with Jesse Williams, Richard Blake, Ashley Hinshaw, Kim Shaw, John Heard, Noah Wyle, Leonardo Nam. Directed by Wayne Holloway, from a screenplay by Holloway and Alan Paradise. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 for smoking throughout and some language. Parkway Plaza.

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If you were into drag racing or collecting Hot Wheels die-cast cars in the 1970s, the low-budget biopic “Snake & Mongoose” will ignite your nostalgia for that time when Top Fuel dragsters and thunderous Funny Cars were in their rubber-burning prime.

Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen remain unique in the annals of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Serious rivals on the quarter-mile, they developed a close friendship while revolutionizing corporate sponsorship in the world’s most dangerous motor sport.

Under contract with Mattel Toys, they lucratively promoted their “Snake vs. Mongoose” rivalry, the Hot Wheels logo prominently featured on Prudhomme’s yellow 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and McEwen’s red ’70 Plymouth Duster, still the most iconic Funny Cars (both real and die-cast) in drag-racing history.

Endearing despite bland direction, subpar dialogue and a TV-star cast led by Jesse Williams (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as Prudhomme and Richard Blake (“CSI”) as McEwen, “Snake & Mongoose” recalls the independent B-movies from the era it depicts. Co-produced by the NHRA, it was originally conceived as a documentary, made obvious by heavy emphasis on archival footage, crudely matching new scenes of vintage dragsters who are never shown actually racing.

With brief focus on the rivals’ wives (Ashley Hinshaw and Kim Shaw) and McEwen’s loss of a young son to leukemia, the film makes no apologies for catering to devoted NHRA fans. With peripheral roles for John Heard as NHRA founder Wally Parks; Noah Wyle as Mattel executive Arthur Spear; Leonardo Nam as racer/team owner Roland Leong; and a cameo appearance by the real Prudhomme and McEwen, “Snake & Mongoose” is a flawed but essential film for its target audience.

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