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OLD MAN, OLD BIKE IN 'FASTEST INDIAN'.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

NO DOUBT Burt Munro was a great guy.

A real character, the New Zealand motorcycle nut spent what appears to be the majority of his long life sleeping in a cinder-block shed with his mechanics' gear and his beloved 1920 Indian Twin Scout. In the 1960s, he finally got it together to cross the ocean to L.A. and travel overland to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, where he and the equally ancient bike eventually set a speed record.

``The World's Fastest Indian'' is about that journey. I wish I could believe some of it really happened this way.

According to Roger Donaldson, who wrote and directed the movie (and met Munro in the 1970s, well after the glorious events depicted took place), Burt was so gosh-darn lovable that even his neighbors in the small, South Island village of Invercargill forgave his revving motors at all hours and urinating on his lemon tree. The unattached elderly ladies of the community found him irresistible, of course, but Burt was wedded to his dream of racing at the legendary proving grounds.

``If you don't follow through on your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable,'' is some of the simple wisdom Anthony Hopkins imparts, with high twinkle, as Burt. That's the length and depth of the movie's point, pretty much. And Donaldson and Hopkins weren't about to go off-message with anything like a real test of faith or serious character flaw for Burt.

Once he hits the States, the kooky kiwi's irrepressibility works its magic on everyone from the cross-dressing night manager of a Sunset Boulevard motel to a Valley used car salesman, a lonely desert widow and a young soldier just back from a little operation in Vietnam involving something called Agent Orange.

That last encounter is about as close as the movie gets to threatening reality. Burt, you see, is also beloved of God. How else to explain why every time the clever but slightly out-of-it old elf is confronted with a dream-, freedom- or even life-threatening crisis, the situation rights itself with or without the help of Burt's pluck?

It's a different approach to drama, I'll give it that. But it's not a very dramatic one. Some of the biking sequences are cool, but Donaldson is a fairly middle-of-the-road filmmaker (``No Way Out,'' ``Cocktail,'' ``Species''), and he doesn't put rubber to it in any particularly breathtaking way.

Hopkins pours on the optimistic charm, of course. But Burt Munro is little more than a fantasy figure for the elderly in ``The World's Fastest Indian.'' And however great it must have felt for the bloke to follow his dream, Hopkins seemed to be having a much better time back when he was stalking entrees to go with fava beans and Chianti.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN - Two and one half stars

(PG-13: language, sex, drug use)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Paul Rodriguez, Aaron Murphy.

Director: Roger Donaldson.

Running time: 2 hr. 7 min.

Playing: AMC Century 14, Century City, for a one-week Academy Award-qualifying run.

In a nutshell: Anthony Hopkins plays real-life New Zealand motorcycle racer Burt Munro, who set a speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in his twilight years. Hopkins himself sets some kind of record for lovable-old-coot mannerisms in this conflict-avoiding, heartwarming geriatric fantasy.

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Anthony Hopkins plays a New Zealand eccentric who sets a motorcycle speed record in ``The World's Fastest Indian.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 7, 2005
Words:583
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