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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Movie Review - Amazing Racer

Amazing Racer (2012) - Available at Walmart, and On Demand (distribution to open up later).  Starring Julianne Michelle, Claire Forlani, Louis Gossett Jr, Eric Roberts and Daryl Hannah.  Also features Michael Madsen, Jason Gedrick, Charles Durning, and Steve Guttenberg.  (92 minutes) Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language

I have been looking forward to this film since it was first announced in the late 2000's, then known as Shannon's Rainbow.  Legal issues held up the release of the movie and it has finally been released in the video market as Amazing Racer.  So it was with delight that I got to sit down this afternoon and watch Amazing Racer as it has been a long time since I have seen a movie with a harness racing backdrop, the last one being a 1978 television movie on the ABC Network called Leave Yesterday Behind starring Carrie Fisher and the late John Ritter.

So what did I think of the movie?  My feelings are mixed. Let me say up front I am thankful this movie went direct to video and bypassed the local cinema.  More about this later.

While there were some lesser known actors in the film, the movie did have some veterans such as Daryl Hannah, Eric Roberts, and  Lou Gossett Jr, someone I haven't seen in movies in a long time and was a welcome addition.  However, I thought all the actors and actresses did an admirable job in the movie.

In general, this film is what I expected.  A story of a teenage girl dealt a cruel blow in life, meeting her mother for the first time and how they managed to get over the problems they both have to become a family and live happily ever after.  Of course, this was all done with a harness racing back story.  In some ways, the interaction of the girl and horse reminded me somewhat of Casey's Shadow, a 1978 film starring Walter Matthau and Alexis Smith.  I don't think I will be letting the cat out of the bag when I mention the movie ends when Shannon's horse wins the big race.

For those involved in harness racing, they will likely enjoy the film after accepting there has been some artistic license taken to make the film fit time constraints.  Speaking as someone who has been around racing, I think there could have been some more story development; for example, why does the Eric Roberts character dislike the boyfriend of the mother so intensely?  What was the back story about Louis Gossett Jr's character and why did Eric Robert's character hate him so much?  Developing this part of the story could have allowed the elimination of certain other scenes in the film.    For those involved in harness racing, I would rate the movie three out of five stars.

Earlier, I mentioned I was glad the movie didn't go into general release.  If this movie was meant to introduce the sport of harness racing to those not familiar with it, I suspect it may have backfired with some. Even for me, seeing the horse deliberately abused then sent to be put down out of spite made me uneasy.  In addition, hearing the whip being used in the abuse scene (must confess I don't recall seeing the whipping) was something which could have been done without.  Less objectionable was the scene where someone attempted to tamper with Rainbow.  Fortunately, at the end justice is done to the malefactors which shows some accountability for their actions. 

I realize some of these scenes were included to add spice to the movie, but in my opinion, a movie like this would more likely turn people away from harness racing than attract new interest in the sport.  To make sure I was not being over sensitive I asked someone who watched the movie with me (not involved in the sport) what they thought of it and they too were uneasy over some of the disturbing scenes.  Even in a movie, showing horse abuse is not the way to attract new fans.  It would have been much better if the story was developed further and these objectionable scenes left out.  For those who have never seen a harness race before, I would rate the movie only one and a half stars.  

All in all, those involved in harness racing will be satisfied, but if the industry was looking for a film to promote the sport, that mark has been badly missed; it may have done more harm than good.

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