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Near the beginning of “Faster,” a documentary about the professional world of MotoGP, or motorcycle Grand Prix racing, narrator Ewan McGregor makes a statement that needs as much parsing as anything said in this year’s presidential election. Explaining why men race motorcycles around tracks at speeds approaching 200 mph, their padded knees scraping the ground, McGregor implies it’s not really so dangerous.
“In fact,” he says, “since 1960, only one of the 500cc world champions has died on the track.” Then he delivers the punch line: That champion was testing a car at the time.
Good, you think. Then you realize: Hey, what about nonchampions? And what about those in the 125cc or 250cc MotoGP class? Later, as you watch shot after shot of MotoGP cyclists crashing and flopping across the ground like so many rag dolls, you realize there are consequences besides death. Being paralyzed for life, for example.
“Faster” is a bland, straightforward documentary about an insane sport. It lets us know that the 500cc MotoGP season runs from April through November, with 16 races on five continents. It intersperses slow-motion shots of men on motorcycles bending around curves with these same men—and engineers and doctors and reporters—talking about the experience.
A kind of plot emerges in the form of a rivalry between two Italian motorcyclists during the 2001 season. This fizzles and a new American rival emerges for the 2002 season, but this fizzles, too. Then the doc fizzles to an end with warnings not to try this at home.
It’s too careful. The doc should’ve embraced its inner-MotoGP. It should’ve been as nutty as its subject. At the start of the 2002 season, for example, Australian Garry McCoy crashes and a titanium rod is surgically implanted in his leg. He still races, limping to his bike, before crashing again and ending his season.
By the end, we still don’t understand McCoy’s need for speed. A documentary like Stacy Peralta’s “Riding Giants” embraces the insanity and beauty of big-wave surfing and leaves even nonsurfers craving to do something a little crazy. “Faster” documentarian Mark Neale wants to make it all seem so logical when it’s not.
Origianlly appeared in The Seattle Times on September 24, 2004
© 2004 Erik Lundegaard