It was the most astonishing thing. There I was at Supercross, supposedly the most dire offering of the generally dire August movie season. It came time for the obligatory final race — the Las Vegas Motocross Championships, or something like that — and imagine my surprise when I realized that I actually cared about the outcome. Sort of. Not particularly. But I cared somewhat, and wanted to finish the film as opposed to walk out of the theater, which is a hell of a lot more than I expected from a movie that looked like a disgusting, utterly soulless result of corporate synergy.
Well, it’s still corporate product through and through. The film was produced by Clear Channel, which is what people mean when they refer to the “Evil Empire,” and it pains me to have to give anything more than a scathingly negative review to something they were involved with. (Seriously, I would like to harp on this point before moving on. Clear Channel can go to hell. Thank you.) But even with this pedigree, the screenplay has occasional spasms of likeability, something approaching a heart, and a legitimate underdog story. It’s decent, against all odds — or, it would have been, had the producers bothered to shell out for a filmmaker, rather than Steve Boyum, to take the helm.
There are some films Scorcese couldn’t save (Herbie: Fully Loaded comes to mind as a recent example). Supercross needed but a modicum of directorial talent and thoughtfulness. What we could have done without are the several mournful/triumphant montages set to hideous pop music, the snippets of dialogue that sound like they were written by 7th graders (surely a rigorous director would have demanded that they be excised, no?), the ridiculous streetrace (though the payoff is gratifying), and some other stuff that blindly draws its inspiration from decades of formula. We could have used more careful management of the supporting cast — it’s kind of absurd that pop star Aaron Carter, cast as the bike-racing brother of the girlfriend of one of the protagonists, literally spends an hour and a half standing around, looking this way and that.
We also could have used someone to shoot the actual races with competence. Boyum shows a lot of leaping bikes and spinning wheels seemingly at random, and then has two guys — sportscasters, I guess — literally narrate the film (not just the race, but the film) as images flash on the screen. Occasionally we will see something that will vaguely match what is being said — a biker passing another biker, say — but usually, we are left to try to follow the ramblings of the “sportscasters” and try to catch glimpses of coherence among what’s on the screen. It’s all supposed to be “kinetic,” but in the end it’s just not very skillfully put together.
And yet… The movie still kind of works, in a half-assed way. It works because the screenplay takes the story of the two motocross-racing brothers — one a brash risktaker, the other calmer and more reasoned — seriously, and because it doesn’t quite go where you would expect. It seems to be genuinely interested in seeing these characters through the plot, and their decisions, fears, betrayals, etc., are given weight and screentime. At one point, K.C. Carlyle (Steve Howey), the saner brother, is given a “factory contract” — the holy grail among racers, apparently — but his new overlords basically just want him to help clear the way for their established star, as opposed to actually win races. The way K.C. handles this is thoughtful and considered, and the way the conflict is resolved is downplayed and decidedly unspectacular; Supercross surprises by not playing this up for effect. It seems to care.
There’s also a very nice, unsentimental performance by Mike Vogel, who also proudly sports a Jim’s Steaks shirt in a couple of scenes — rock on, Philly. He’s in step with the movie’s tendency to downplay more often than not, without lingering on the maudlin, sappy and stupid. Supercross is fundamentally not half bad, and I just wish all its elements had been assembled with more concern for the final result. Sometimes even corporate hackery can have a little soul.