Motorcycle Movie Review: The World's Fastest Indian

"The World's Fastest Indian", starring Anthony Hopkins, is this generation's great motorcycle movie, and you need to go see it. Reviewed by Art Friedman.

About once every two generations, it seems, somebody makes a really good movie about motorcycling. The last motorcycle movie that you would have wanted to take your family and friends to see was probably On Any Sunday, released in 1971. There have been dozen of movies in the interim that depicted motorcyclists as thugs, druggies, misfits, and other negative stereotypes, but we have been waiting for another movie that portrays the sorts of motorcyclists we know and makes them as interesting as they often really are. The World's Fastest Indian is the movie we have been waiting for, and you _need_ to go see it—and take the family and friends. They will enjoy it every bit as much as you do, even if they aren't motorcycle enthusiasts.

This Friday, February 3, the movie opens at theaters around the country. It will open on about 80 screens in 20 states with additional showings scheduled for other areas in the near future. If you forgotten what a quality flick about motorcycling is like, you shouldn't miss it.

The long, 20-year ride to the making of The World's Fastest Indian started when director Roger Donaldson met fellow Kiwi Burt Munro, who in the 1960s and early 1970s made regular trips from New Zealand to the Bonneville Salt Flats to set speed records with his 1920-something Indian streamliner. Donaldson was captivated by the colorful Munro and made a documentary, Offerings to the God's of Speed, about the man and his efforts during Bonneville's annual Speed Week. Donaldson actually bankrolled Munro's final trip to the salt in 1971 to do it. But sometimes the facts don't do the subject justice, and that's why Donaldson had to make The World's Fastest Indian.

Although Munro came to Bonneville on several occasions, _The World's Fastest Indian_ offers a semi-fictional account of Munro's first trip to (and down) the salt. Writer-director Donaldson combines episodes and incidents from other ventures to Bonneville and other parts of Munro's life to weave a profile of Munro as he charms friends and strangers alike into helping him get his handmade streamliner to Bonneville's starting line. The movie's tag line is "Based on one hell of a true story," and the basic story is indeed true as is Munro's speed record, 190 mph set in 1967. Although the Munro's quest for a shot at the Gods of Speed moves the plot, it is Munro's personality, as lovingly portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, that will enthrall the audience.

Eccentric, endearing, and unwavering is his pursuit of a run at Bonneville, Burt Munro built his machine literally by hand, casting his own pistons and working engine components with hand tools. The movie opens by neatly condensing 40 years of trial and error that took the old Indian from a 54-mph street bike to a projectile that went more than three times that fast by showing the parts consumed along the way, each marked with the speed at which it failed. The camera drifts across the parts on shelves in Munro's garage as the opening credits run. Then Donaldson luxuriates in slowly revealing the character that is Munro as he infuriates his neighbors, is celebrated by them, struggles to find the cash to go to America, races the local biker youth who think an old man and an old motorcycle are more myth than missile, and finally boards the boat.

In America, Munro is confronted by government officials, surreal denizens of 1960s Hollywood, used-car salesmen, and laconic westerners as he makes his way to Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Along the way, his charm and determination wins the friendship of everyone he meets and help him overcome obstacles that seem certain to stop his crusade to run is ancient motorcycle at Bonneville. Then, when he finally arrives at the Salt Flats, he learns that he was required to register weeks before and that his machine is a long way from meeting the safety requirements (even after he fills the cracks in the tires with shoe polish), and the officials are not willing to change the rules on account of ignorance.

Filmed in New Zealand and Utah, The World's Fastest Indian is framed by perfect period settings, and director Donaldson even managed to get some of the other famous Bonneville machines of the era for the movie. He also created several replicas of Munro's record setter, some of which actually ran. Although the movie uses some special effects and camera tricks to create the rush of 200 mph on the featureless Bonneville Salt Flats, they are seamless, virtually undetectable and devoid of the intrusive, annoying cartoonishness of some recent movie depictions of motorcycles on the move.

Hopkins says he greatly enjoyed playing Munro, who he calls "a real winner of a guy." He termed the role "the best thing I've done, the best experience I've had." New Zealanders tell me he nails the Kiwi accent. Donaldson, himself a motorcyclist, also told us that the experience turned Hopkins into a motorcycle enthusiast. He had previously worked with Donaldson on 1983's The Bounty. Other cast members include Diane Ladd, Paul Rodriguez, and Chris Kennedy Lawford.

Although this week marks its official opening in the U.S., there have previously been limited showings in New York and Los Angeles in December to allow it to be considered for the Academy Awards. While you are waiting, take a look at _the trailer_.

We hope all motorcyclists go to see it and take their families and friends and tell others if you like it. When it opened in New Zealand, the audiences got bigger every week as word of mouth drew more people to see it. We hope the same happens here. Let the studios know that there are plenty of real motorcycle stories out there that are much more captivating than that trash they keep trying to sell.

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In _The World's Fastest Indian, Anthony Hopkins (right) stars as Burt Munro, the colorful New Zealander who came to Bonneville in his quest for a land speed record._
Donaldson had running replicas of Munro's Indian created for the movie.
This rig, which loses a trailer wheel along the way, gets Munro from Los Angeles to Bonneville in the movie.
Munro's "Offerings" are the backdrop for the opening credits.
Roger Donaldson, shown manning the camera, had the idea for this movie in 1981.
The fact that Donaldson was able to get some of the actual famous LSR cars of the period as props says something about _his determination._
Hopkins says he enjoyed the role after his recent misfit portrayals.
One of the more memorable scenes depicts Munro's race on a New Zealand beach with local yobs who don't believe his ancient Indian can actually make real speed.