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A really friendly film that could use a nudge out of the slow lane
Seattle Times movie critic
Roger Donaldson's agreeable if schmaltzy "The World's Fastest Indian" tells the sort of story that's hard to believe, even when assured in the movie's endnotes that it's true.
Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), an agreeably grumpy New Zealand codger, traveled to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats repeatedly in the '60s to compete for the world land-speed record on his beloved 1920 Indian Twin Scout motorcycle. The film documents his first trip, an incredible journey filled with niceness and good fortune. Everything seems to go right for Burt; everyone he meets becomes a friend.
The world is rarely like this, but it's nice to imagine that it might be, and those who like their films without a trace of irony or cloud may well enjoy Burt's trip. Certainly Hopkins, grinning and stammering in his New Zealand accent, seems to be relishing the role of a genuinely nice man. His Burt is eccentric but in the most blandly acceptable kind of way. In the small town of Invercargill, where he lived his entire life, he's notable for living in a shed filled with bicycle parts, for spending his days tinkering with the Indian and for being a friend to all.
The trip to the U.S. for the Bonneville races is a complicated one: Burt must work for his passage to Los Angeles on a small freighter. Once arrived, he buys (and repairs) a used car, builds a trailer for the motorcycle and drives to Utah, with several unscheduled stops along the way. Among the people he meets are a friendly transgender motel clerk (Chris Williams), a friendly used-car salesman (Paul Rodriguez), a friendly Native American (Saginaw Grant), a friendly young soldier (Patrick Fleuger) and a friendly and randy widow (Diane Ladd). And when he finally gets to Bonneville — well, the folks there are pretty nice, too.
All of this gets predictable fairly quickly, and the film moves at a pace far slower than Burt's motorcycle (made worse by the hard-of-hearing Burt always barking, "What?" at people, necessitating a repeat of their lines). The slowness, and a few morning-after scenes that indicate that Burt's still something of a swordsman, interfere with what could have been — and almost is — a pleasant family film. It's still pleasant, particularly Hopkins' performance, but for a film that's ultimately about speed, it could use a little more zip.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company