The World's Fastest Indian

In 1967, New Zealander Burt Munro made the trip halfway across the world to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to set the land speed record in his Indian Scout motorcycle. Amazingly, the Indian was a model from 1920. Even more impressive was that Munro was in his late 60s, not exactly an age where somebody zips across Utah at 200 mph. The World's Fastest Indian is about Munro's (Anthony Hopkins, Proof, Alexander) record-setting ride, with an emphasis on the trip to Bonneville from Invercargill, New Zealand. Most of the film is a kooky road-trip with a quirky, nearly deaf senior citizen.

It's a charming movie that uses much of the off-kilter humor that gentle comedies from Australia and New Zealand use. As Munro makes his way across the globe, he meets a slew of odd characters, from a lonely woman, an incontinent Native American, to Kiwi bikers and a cross-dressing motel clerk. Munro fits in right with them. He urinates on his lemon tree and revs his Indian's motor way too early in the morning. He has a folksy aura about him, and is an utter gentleman. Couple this with his accent, and he seems like a complete alien in America. But it is his love of speed that keeps him young. His motorcycle looks like it is about to fall apart, and is held together by homemade parts and all sorts of random things.

The Munro character is a nice role for Hopkins. Munro is physically frail, but mentally strong. For over a quarter of a century, he has dreamed of getting the chance to go to Speed Week in Bonneville. This dream is what keeps him alive, and gives him the drive to go on, despite a heart condition, a lack of money, transportation, or as some would think, wits. Munro will participate in Speed Week, even with his heart condition. Hopkins is not known for playing such a subdued, almost weak character. But he proves that he is up to the challenge, imbuing Munro with an inner strength and infectious enthusiasm. Munro charms everybody he meets, and they all do their best to make sure he makes it to Utah. Hopkins is also able to add an element of sadness to Munro. A few times, it looks like his dream will not come to fruition, and the dejection is almost unbearable.

Because writer/director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Thirteen Days) chose such a leisurely pace, The World's Fastest Indian does have a padded feel to it. But Donaldson wants to emphasize that the journey is just as important. It works to a degree, but one almost wishes he spent more time in Bonneville, when the actual race occurs. Here, Munro meets even more good-willed people and overcomes even more obstacles, and Donaldson ably conveys the allure of going really, really fast. It is thrilling watching Munro speed along in his tiny motorcycle while other racers and officials watch with a mixture of horror and admiration. The movie comes alive at this point, and even though everybody knows how it will end, they will still get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when it happens.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief language, drug use, and a sexual reference.

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