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Director:Mark Neale
Cast:Ewan Mcgregor, Max Biaggi, Steve Bennet
Release Date:2003

By Chris Landers | Posted 8/6/2008

Any documentary about motorcycle racing has to be compared to the gold standard in the genre: Bruce Brown's On Any Sunday, which got thousands of new riders up on two wheels after its 1971 release and remains a favorite to this day, cheesy soundtrack and all. Mark Neale's 2004 Faster, although it has its good points, is basically the opposite of Brown's movie--slick, professional, and out of reach. Anyone inspired to hop on a bike after seeing the best riders in the world flying--sometimes all too literally--down the track at 200 mph should be refused entry to the dealership.

The four-DVD box "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Faster, more than three hours of racing plus extras, covers the 2001-'02 Moto Grand Prix series of the original documentary, expands it to take in the 2003-'04 season, and then hits the American Laguna Seca race in 2005 with the follow-up The Doctor, the Tornado and the Kentucky Kid. All of it is beautifully shot, with on-board cameras during the races that will have you leaning into the turns from the safety of your couch. At its best, the movie has moments that show the human drama behind the action, interspersing interviews with race footage, with narration by Ewan MacGregor, (yes, the Star Wars actor, but more importantly, the star with fellow actor Charley Boorman of the documentary series Long Way Round and the soon to be released Long Way Down). Some of the better moments come from interviews with Claudio Costa, the philosophical doctor charged with putting the racers back together and sending them back out to the track. Some narrative structure is provided by the rivalry between Italian racers Max Biaggi and Valentino Rossi, although as one of the other riders points out, "It's not a rivalry at all. I haven't seen Biaggi win anything."

Where On Any Sunday was instrumental in getting riders into the sport, Faster shoots lower--it's enough just to get people to watch the races. As such, it does a great job dramatizing the sorts of thing that race fans obsess over and no one else cares about very much. MotoGP has a large and fanatical following just about everywhere but the United States, where even hard-core fans have trouble even figuring out when the races are televised (although this year several will be shown on the big networks). Dorna Sports S.L., which owns the commercial rights to MotoGP racing, funded the movies, and Faster sometimes feels more like an extended commercial looking for an American audience than an attempt to explain the sport to the uninitiated. Likewise, The Doctor (the nickname of Rossi, the winningest MotoGP rider on the circuit) bears the words "MotoGP Hits the USA" on the cover, and focuses on what the moviemakers claim is the biggest motorcycle race in U.S. history, coincidentally enough, won by American racer Nicky Hayden (the title's "Kentucky Kid").

Ultimately, the movies will be enjoyed by the sort of people who care that the 2002 MotoGP season was the first to allow four-stroke motors to compete against the smaller two-stroke bikes, and who generally like to see noisy things go fast. At the very least, Faster, The Doctor, and MotoGP in general offer twice the excitement of a NASCAR race by the simple inclusion of right turns.

E-mail Chris Landers

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