The World's Fastest Indian
The World's Fastest Indian

USA/New Zealand, 2005. Rated PG-13. 126 minutes.

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Jessica Cauffiel, Saginaw Grant, Chris Lawford, Aaron Murphy, Paul Rodriguez, Annie Whittle, Chris Williams
Writer: Roger Donaldson
Original Music: J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography: David Gribble
Producers: Roger Donaldson, Gary Hannam
Roger Donaldson


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

B urt Munro is an eccentric. The World's Fastest Indian, based on a true story, takes great pains to establish that. Burt likes to make a racket in his workshop at odd hours of the day and night; he waters his lemon tree with his pee every morning; and he has disgusting toenails. He has a Kiwi accent, too, whenever Anthony Hopkins remembers not to speak with a Welsh one. But hey, he's the hero of the film, so obviously we must like him, as long as he doesn't start eating his co-stars with a nice Chianti. Burt is just eccentric, see.

The place is Invercargill, the southernmost town in New Zealand. The time is 1962. The goal is to travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, to set the motorcycle land speed a forty-year old Indian Twin Scout with homemade pistons and an uncontrollable shake when it exceeds seventy miles an hour. That's what you need to know, but we spend a long time with Burt in Invercargill, with writer/director Roger Donaldson persistently pushing the notion that Burt is nearing the end of the line, even though the closing captions put the lie to that characterization.

Burt and his Indian
Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) and his Indian in The World's Fastest Indian.

While still in Invercargill, there's a moment when a group of belligerent young motorcyclists swagger into Burt's fund-raiser for his trip to confront him for no particularly good reason. They race, and Burt acquits himself poorly. It's a clumsy scene that would have sucked in some Karate Kid sequel, let alone a serious film enjoying an Oscar run. You'd expect something a little more sophisticated from Roger Donaldson, director of Thirteen Days and No Way Out, no matter how small his budget. (Then again, he also directed The Getaway.) The very next time we see the young ruffians, they are giving Burt a motorcycle escort as he departs New Zealand. Uh, how did Burt and those dastardly punks get from foes to friends, exactly? Is there a scene that's gone missing? No, pleaseódon't put it back in. The film is long enough already.

Apart from Burt's health, arguments with the neighbors, and the run-in with the Rebels Without a Clue, there ain't much conflict for far too long. The middle part of the film is just a long road movie in which Burt seems to get along with everyone effortlessly. He may be a difficult man, but he accepts everyone he encounters at face value, including transsexual Tina (Chris Williams, Vanessa's brother). Once you've grasped that point, this is a good time to take a half-hour nap.

The film doesn't pick up any *ahem* speed until Burt finally arrives in Bonneville. He tries to enter the event, only to discover that he was supposed to register in advance. Plus, the organizers don't seem to think that a parachute and brakes are quaint optional features. The World's Fastest Indian finally gets interesting here, as Burt encounters a seemingly endless series of insurmountable bureaucratic and mechanical obstacles in order to get a chance to show what his Indian can do.

Struggles with a Kiwi accent aside, Hopkins is outstanding and, yes, endearing as Burt, but even his sizeable talent can't make The World's Fastest Indian less boringly inert for two-thirds of its running time. Some sort of character arc might help. At the beginning of the film Burt is a charming, rough-around-the-edges old coot, and at the end of the film he's still a charming, rough-around-the-edges old coot. There is only Burt's insistent desire to prove his Indian is the fastest motorcycle on Earth. Once this desire fully takes over the film, The World's Fastest Indian becomes fun and even suspenseful, but the *ahem* engines take far to long to rev up.

[Read the AboutFilm interview with Anthony Hopkins]
[Read the AboutFilm interview with Roger Donaldson]

Review © December 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Magnolia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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