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One fast little Indian

Sir Anthony hopkins saddles up a motorcycle in a bid to become 'The World's Fastest Indian.'

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In 1971, director Roger Donaldson made a documentary about Burt Munro, the 72-year-old New Zealander who four years earlier had broken the land speed record for motorcycles. Now he's fulfilled a long-time ambition to dramatize Munro's achievement and the result is "The World's Fastest Indian," starring Anthony Hopkins as the supersonic old coot.

When we first see Burt he is living in the small town of Invercargill and is dependably eccentric in everything he does. His weedy, overgrown yard and cinder-block hut are a (deliberate) affront to his neighbor's manicured abodes. His method of watering his lemon trees is, well, all natural.

His passion, aside from aggravating the townspeople, is his 1920 Indian Scout motorbike, which he modifies until he's satisfied it's the fastest thing on two wheels. Except for the wide-eyed boy next door and a sympathetic lady friend, nobody believes Burt when he says he's going to blow away the competition in the annual speed racing competition in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Just getting to Utah proves to be an odyssey of Homeric proportions. A stormy ocean passage to Los Angeles is followed by a series of on-the-road misadventures involving a doting transvestite motel clerk, a San Fernando Valley car dealer (Paul Rodriguez), an old Indian, and a rambunctious earth mother (Diane Ladd). When he arrives in the salt flats, he discovers he hasn't registered for the event and faces disqualification. (The flats have a bleached white shimmer that is as unearthly as a lunar landscape.)

Throughout it all, Burt is remarkably even-tempered despite the bum ticker that keeps slowing him down. In New Zealand his eccentricities repelled people, but in America he is adopted by almost everyone he meets. His openness to even the most wayward personalities, like that motel clerk, is refreshing. The late '60s was a good time for Burt to arrive in America - as a kind of silvered hippie, he could fit right in.


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