'Snake & Mongoose' movie reviewFri, 06 Sep 2013 00:00:00 -0700
There's another great motorsports rivalry being celebrated cinematically this month -- while "Rush" grabs all the global headlines, the drag racing biopic "Snake & Mongoose" has all the same elements that drove Lauda and Hunt -- minus the world stage.
Hard to believe, but professional drag racing wasn't always a glamorous, high-budget affair with corporate hospitality suites and top drivers flying to races in private jets. "Snake & Mongoose" takes us back to an era when drivers needed that $500 win money to buy gas to get to the next race -- and held grudges against track owners who only paid $400. Visionary drag racer Tom McEwen saw the marketing potential of his sport and was one of the first to exploit it. McEwen enlisted arch-rival Don Prudhomme to bring corporate financial backing to the formerly hand-to-mouth existence of drag racers, approaching Mattel to sponsor the rivalry McEwen created and fostered. The result was the great Snake vs. Mongoose battles held at quarter-mile strips across America in the 1960s and '70s. You probably remember them, either because you were at one of the pair's many match races, or because you had a Hot Wheels drag strip set up on your living room floor. Either way, motorheads will love to take this drag race down memory lane.
It's too bad no one could find corporate sponsorship to make the movie, which could use a little more polish to appeal to audiences not already in love with the subject matter. If you know or knew any of the great players in this decades-long drama, you'll approach it as you would your high school yearbook; “Hey, there's that guy from Lions!” “Look, it's Wally Parks!” “Yeah, I remember that race!” If you're already a fan of drag racing history, you will love "Snake & Mongoose."
If you're not a fan, or if your date is not, one of you might start to nitpick about things like dialogue, acting, editing, screenplay and pretty much everything else. As a fan, you keep rooting for the movie to succeed, to break out, to have crossover appeal, but the movie keeps tripping over itself in telling what oldtimers know is a great story. There are clunky cuts between the cool NHRA archival footage and the new shots. Actor Richard Blake, who seems to show emotion by putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head -- looks a lot like the real McEwen. Jesse Williams does a better job of conveying the swaggering cool of the determined Prudhomme, but is hamstrung by half-hearted dialogue. And why couldn't they get a tall guy to play the towering Wally Parks?
At the end of the movie we get treated to several old stills and some original interviews of Snake and Mongoose that show the potential of the subject matter. If only the movie could have done the same thing as well it would merit a wider audience. As it is, however, real racers will overlook the flaws of "Snake & Mongoose" and embrace the past they all love.
"Snake & Mongoose" is In limited general release.
By Mark Vaughn