For a film that celebrates speed, The World's Fastest Indian certainly doesn't move very quickly. At least 30 minutes could have been chopped from the meandering true story of Burt Munro's 1967 attempt to break the land speed record with his Indian motorcycle. Roger Donaldson's film observes the following school of thought: If you don't see Burt brush his teeth, can you really be sure they got brushed? The movie's engine warms up nicely in Burt's New Zealand home, where there's plenty of local character to contextualize this senior-citizen speed fetishist and his tendency to flout convention. But once Burt goes to America, that Kiwi charm is gone, mostly because Anthony Hopkins can't transplant it there himself. Despite peppering his speech with the words "mate" and "crikey," Hopkins sounds more Scottish or even Irish than he does anything else. This isn't to say Hopkins' Burt isn't extremely likable -- he is, and that's what makes The World's Fastest Indian come across favorably as a pleasant little diversion, rather than the tension-free dramatic failure it actually is. Still, this pleasantry steadily begins to suffocate, as Burt meets and spends about five minutes of screen time with one helpful American after another, addressing challenges that turn out to be nothing but minor hiccups. He's shaken down by an immigrant cabbie and a Sunset Boulevard flower saleswoman, but otherwise, numerous nice people bend over backward for this determined old SOB from halfway across the world, and that just seems too easy. What's missing is a palpable sense of why going fast is important to Burt, how he developed his passion for mechanics and racing, and the details of his previous attempts at setting records, of which there were several. In a two-hour film, that could have easily been wrenched in.
by Derek Armstrong review