Supercross: The Movie (review)

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Poetry in Motion

And then came Supercross: The Movie, the long-anticipated filmic adaptation of Shakespeare’s lost play The Fast and the Furious. That other movie about heroic young men and their wheeled conveyances tried to appropriate some of that Bardic gravitas by snatching the title, but to no avail, as we all well know. But this is a triumph, and it’s a cinematic shame that practical and legal issues prevent this stunning film — truly, the Hollywood event of the year; Oscar, watch out! — from claiming its proper title. It recalls the legendarily daring 1926 Broadway production with John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in its dramatic sweep, its emotional richness, its tapestry of human pain and suffering and the triumph that is borne of it. Even last summer’s multiple Tony-winning stage version, part of Clear Channel Entertainment’s Motor Sports in the Park, the one that starred Ralph Fiennes and Dame Judi Dench, only just brushed the heights achieved here by former stuntman turned film director — nay, artiste — Steve Boyum.
Boyum, with the personal appreciation of the depths of psychic and physical pain to which a man can descend his life of stunting has afforded him, may, perhaps, have been the only filmmaker capable of transferring to celluloid the levels of suffering and torment to which we are witness here. Oh, the hotblooded rivalry of brothers Trip and K.C. Carlyle has never been given such agonizing expression as it is in the hands of Boyum and his cast, the astonishing Mike Vogel — who recently devastated audiences in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — as Trip, and the stunning Steve Howey — late of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts’ staging of Frankie Muniz HoopLA Celebrity Basketball Event as well, of course, of American Playhouse’s Reba. Boldly, Boyum elides over the orphaned state of the young men, which Shakespeare made such to-do about, and launches directly into filling the parental void that yawns at the heart of each man with the early introduction of the binary father figures of Clay Sparks (Robert Carradine: the recent Broadway mounting of Tennessee Williams’s Ghosts of Mars) — the nefarious and villainous owner of the American Nami motorcycle company, often spoken of in the same breath by Bard scholars with Iago — and Earl Cole (Robert Patrick: the RSC’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) — the kindly, prudent, but slightly dotty independent motocross racer frequently compared to Polonius.

Of course, entire tomes have been written about how these dual, and dueling, father figures variously nurture and abuse the trust, talent, and audacity of their new charges: Sparks, of course, twists K.C.’s lust for glory and fortune by bestowing upon him a fully sponsored “factory ride” on an American Nami bike and then thwarting the young man’s ambitions, manipulating him into the role of supporting “wingman” for Sparks’ champion rider son, enabling his wins at the expense of K.C.’s own. Earl, contrarily, defiantly supports Trip as a “privateer,” an independent racer, one without corporate sponsorship. (Cleverly, Boyum imbues his film with ironic commentary on the nature of big-money sponsorship; as Shakespeare’s structure of the story is considered by many scholars a critique of the nascent British East India Company, founded only two years before The Fast and the Furious was first staged in London, Boyum also toys with deriding mechanistic and heartless corporate attitudes while simultaneously accepting corporate money from one of the biggest media companies in the world, Clear Channel Entertainment, whose Motor Sports Division is a producer of this film.)

Thankfully, Boyum does not neglect that pair of female characters that are probably Shakespeare’s most well rounded: Zoe Lang (Sophia Bush: The Papp Theater’s Van Wilder) and Piper Cole (Cameron Richardson: The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze), who serve, respectively, as the intelligent and sensible guides to K.C. and Trip, whispering wise words in their ears, guiding these lost and desperate young man to, finally, a level of maturity that befits them. But none of the characteristic Shakespearean romantic comedy is lost in the seriousness with which all involved approach the telling of the tale: Richardson’s delivery of that famous line, “Typical guy — when it comes to the real thing they’re like, Huh?” as she removes her chemise before a goggling Trip is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve seen before.

Oh, the language! “I love your hunger — you’re like a rabid dog!” exclaims the villain-father to his unsuspecting protege. Oh, and the grandeur! The clumps of mud flying into the air as stunt doubles for the cast fly souped-up dirt bikes over mounds of dirt! Oh, the romance! Your heart will soar during the idyllic dirt-bike interlude of Trip and Piper, set to the strains of “The Ride of Your Life” (“Get ready for the ride of your life”).

You’ll see no more sublime moments on film this year, and likely not for the foreseeable future, either. It’s that… indescribably unspeakable.

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