Thursday, September 18, 2014

Born to Race: Fast Track Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Branden Sievers
In this 2013 follow up to 2011's Born 2 Race, Born to Race: Fast Track, returning rivals Danny Kruger (MTV Awkward's Brett Davern) and Jake Kendall (Awkward co-star Beau Mirchoff) are forced to cooperate and compete once more, as they both angle for two available spots in the famed Lucas Oil Cup given to the two most successful students attending the Fast Lane Driving Academy. Along the way, Danny is faced by challenges on and off the race track, including pressure from his driving instructor ("Psych's" Corbin Bernsen) and top-notch competition at the academy, to differentiating priorities in his relationship with high school sweetheart Jess (Nicole Badaan), and especially an ever more complicated relationship with his long time rival Jake.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Danny Krueger is a former illegal street racer, who cleaned up his act in the first film of the series and is looking to go legit and join a professional racing team after winning a rare scholarship to prestigious Fast Lane Driving Academy, an opportunity his father is not reluctant to remind him they couldn't afford otherwise. His girlfriend gives him a reluctant send off, clearly concerned with their increased distance after being a high school couple. At the academy, he is faced by stiff competition, including Italian brothers Enzo and Paulo Lauricello, and an eclectic, if somewhat stereotypical collection of other prospective racers, among them his rival from the previous film Jake. In between time trials and classroom work, the students find time to form rivalries, cliques, and romantic attachments to one another, changing many past relationships in the process.

To be quite honest, I came in expecting to entirely dislike this movie. Only one of the actors in the movie had I ever heard of more than in passing, and never heard of the movie studio or the writer/director Alex Ranarivelo, or the previous movie in the series. These, along with the fact that the majority of the cast (including both returning main characters) were replaced are all hallmarks of a low-budget cash grab type movie. I was more than pleasantly surprised. The film lacks many of the issues with low budget films: the actors don't under- or over act, the cinematography is excellent, and the sets and props (including cars) all top notch.

Additionally, the film breaks the streak of street racing movies, focused on flashy cars and wealthy drivers, instead opting to focus on the technical aspects of track driving. The director, a racing enthusiast himself, opted to film on roads and tracks familiar to him, with actors who actually took the time to attend a real driving school, and indeed raced competitively themselves. Their combined experiences result in truly real feeling, emotionally gripping race scenes including enough crashes and unexpected twists to keep anyone interested. The movie actually features no visual special effects at all, and it comes across in the honesty of the racing competition, though some of the scenes end up feeling a bit jarring with the plethora of cuts between driver/suspension/shift knob/tach.

Despite its positive qualities, the movie isn't without its shortcomings. The sponsorships, while not wholly disruptive, are often very in-your-face and can distract from the film itself and the plot is rife with cliché. My biggest complaints, however, come from the plot's treatment of some of the characters. Many of them are hardly more than caricatures, and the female characters feel like they're only there as love interests. They are each (yes, there's really only two) given barely developed story-lines, in stark contrast to the first movie in the series where the female lead was a necessary part of the race crew and treated as an independent character, rather than half of a couple. This may not put off many of the fans of this movie since, under the hood, it's really a 'guy movie.' I'd be remiss if I didn't point out just how "Top Gun" this movie feels, with the romances taking a back seat to the bromances, and classroom scenes that one could nearly swap unnoticed between films. Thankfully though, no one ever says they have the 'need for speed.'
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
I was again, pleasantly surprised with the quality of the video. The flashy paint jobs and deep black tires all come across well in this 2.35:1 1080p Blu-ray. The film lacks much of the aliasing typical of the MPEG-4 format it's encoded in, especially for a movie so focused on speed itself. The night scenes appear filmed at night, rather than through a blue filter as many low budget movies as well.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The movie has everything you'd want from its genre: lots of deep, throaty engines and high pitch squealing tires, handled well by its Dolby 5.1 encoding. Additionally, it was well mixed in a way I find few Blu-rays are today: with a preference for spoken dialog. Moments where the actors voices were not the most audible of the audio tracks were few and far between, and I don't recall ever having to rewind to understand what was said.
Extras (1 out of 5 stars)
The extra features was far and away the most disappointing aspect of this Blu Ray release, featuring a sub ten minute interview with the writer/director and lead actors called (uncreatively) "Fast Track: Behind the Scenes", though it does give one a deeper appreciation for the effort that went into this film.
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
To be blunt, this movie is not about to win any major awards, but it is an entertaining blend of Route 66 nostalgia and modern high-tech racing. The film explains the terminology in a way that's accessible for any, even those uninitiated into the racing lifestyle, and has a pacing that will keep most interested through the whole film. The movie is rated PG and is mostly inoffensive featuring only brief partial nudity and a few fairly innocuous kisses along with very mild racing injuries. Fans of domestic cars may be a bit put off by their treatment in the film, as they're mostly lacking (especially in the actual race scenes). Overall, it's an excellent movie to rent or stream once, and can stand alone for those not interested in watching the first movie in the series as well, though I likely would only recommend it as a purchase to a fan of the racing genre. 

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