Saturday, August 28, 2010

Video Review: The World's Fastest Indian

“The World’s Fastest Indian” is the story of Burt Munro, the legendary motorcycle racer and speed-record holder, and his journey from his home in New Zealand to the Bonneville salt flats with his ancient Indian streamliner in tow. It ought to be a pretty good story, but somehow manages not to be.

After glossing over Munro’s motivation for traveling halfway around the world to set a speed record, and landing him in America via a tramp steamer, the film turns into a predicable road-trip movie, with Munro encountering a hackneyed cast of kooks and stereotypes—an ethnic cabbie, a winsome transvestite motel clerk, a fast-talking used-car salesman, a lonely widow—as he bumbles his way toward Utah like a Kiwi Mr. Magoo.

At about point where Munro suffers an attack of slapstick by driving on the wrong side of the road, my attention wandered, and never really came back until he finally arrived at the salt. Here’s what I was waiting for, a recreation of Bonneville in the old days, with vintage cars and bikes—but then it was gone, and in its place the plucky underdog Munro winning the hearts of his fellow salt racers before predictably setting the speed record he came for.

The real Burt Munro might not have recognized himself or his story as they’re portrayed in “The World’s Fastest Indian”; considerable liberties were taken with the facts of Munro’s life and his experiences at Bonneville. Fortunately, the DVD extras include “Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed,” a 26-minute 1971 documentary about the real-life Munro that contains no Hollywood fluffing, and is every bit as entertaining as the feature film. Both the feature film and the documentary were made by the writer/director of “The World’s Fastest Indian,” which probably explains why the documentary is the source of a number of quotes and bits of business in the feature film.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I can’t warm up to this movie. But I enjoyed the documentary a lot, and wished it were longer, because the real, unvarnished Munro seems like a much more interesting person than the one portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the movie. My advice is to rent the movie, watch the documentary right away, and then watch the movie later if you don’t have anything better to do. —Jerry Smith


  1. World's fastest Indian was a Movie. A very entertaining movie! I liked it a lot and I've watched it several times. No, it's not a documentary. I don't think it was supposed to be a documentary, so the facts and factoids have been tweaked for the sake of entertainment. Hopkins is a superb actor and he said that this was the most fun he ever had making a movie for the least amount of money.

    If I want something closer to fact, I watch the news or read the paper. I'd put those at about 75% fact and not much more. Life's too short to be so anal about a movie. Let it go. Have some fun.

  2. The Worlds Fastest Indian was a very good movie in my opinion. Not a documentary but a fun look at an eccentric likable caricature Burt Monroe played by Anthony Hopkins. The time period cars and bikes were a treat to see. I had hoped it would do better at the box office but being released at the same time as Broke Butt Mountain. WFI was pulled after only a few theater’s in our area had shown it instead we got gay cowboy’s?

    The narration by Anthony Hopkins was excellent and would have been a great base for more movies about Bonneville. I could have seen Burt Monroe narrating a story about Mickey Thompson and other bigger then life characters of the day.

    I go to the movies to have FUN and this movie put a smile on my face. Oh yea and most women I have talked to enjoyed it also. A pure documentary would have been boring to the general public.