March 16, 2006

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The World’s Fastest Indian (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

A mixture of resourcefulness, naiveté and ladykillerness, Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a motorcyclist in search of worldwide acclaim in The World’s Fastest Indian, a surprisingly sweet true-story road movie.

Burt lives to run his Indian Twin Scout, a 1920s motorcycle that he has kept patched together into the present (the 1960s) and even improved via his own ingenuity. A 60somethinger, Burt challenges kids a third his age to races, is the hit of his motorcycle club and even makes time with a lady friend. He seems fit but finds out that he has a weak ticker. Told to give up racing, he does the only thing that makes sense to him — gets a loan and heads to Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats (a lifelong dream) to find out just how fast his Indian can go. Actually, he doesn’t just want to go fast; Burt is out to go the fastest and set a land speed record or two.

The joy of this movie is watching the likeable Burt travel from New Zealand (lecturing the crew of the ship that they shouldn’t smoke) through 1960s Los Angeles into the desert and to Utah. Along the way he meets a variety of characters, charms a lady or two and proves himself to be a genuinely decent guy out to prove himself. I was reminded, while watching this film, of Mrs. Henderson Presents, a somewhat fluffier film but similar in the way it allows its leads to just have fun. Hopkins isn’t plumbing uncharted depths of his soul, he’s just playing an old guy who still wears a leather jacket (and looks quite natural in it), flirts with the girls and cares with intensity for his bike. A regular joe from small-town New Zealand, Burt’s extraordinary gift is his motorcycle and the things he’s done to it to make it go fast and, with mortality looming large, he decides to “have a go” at a small piece of immortality that a world record can bring a man. Such a story could easily turn syrupy but Hopkins is so winningly restrained in his portrayal that the movie plays not like the inspiring tale of something but a geekily interesting Sunday newspaper people feature that gives us a good story by more or less sticking to the facts of the events and the personality of the subject. B+


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