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Reviews by Dr. Frank Swietek   

Producer  Stephen Lim 
Director  Mark Neale 
Writer  Mark Neale 
Starring Valentino Rossi  Max Biaggi  Garry McCoy  John Hopkins  Wayne Rainey 
Kevin Schwantz  Claudio Costa  John Ulrich  Ewan McGregor 
Studio  Slamdance on the Road 
Review  The MotoGP circuit of high-speed motorcross races might not have achieved the same degree of popularity in the U.S. that NASCAR has, but it’s now gotten its own documentary in Mark Neale’s “Faster,” a chronicle of the multinational eighteen-race event over the course of its 2001-2002 season. It’s a competently-made treatment, though it does grow a bit repetitious over the long haul and doesn’t end with the sort of rousing triumph the filmmaker seems to have hoped for.

“Faster” covers a good deal of historical territory via interviews and found footage while offering a fairly clear explanation of how the annual tournament is scored and a detailed treatment of the succession of races over the year, which acts as the glue tying things together. Neale focuses on four of the current competitors. One is Valentino Rossi, who dominates the sport and proves to be a loose, voluble fellow. His main rival is another Italian, Max Biaggi, a more stern, taciturn sort who apparently declined direct interviews (perhaps because he’s portrayed as kind of a hopeless also-ran). A third is Australian Garry McCoy, a slightly-built veteran who’s trying to make a comeback after a series of serious accidents but whom luck seems to shun. And the fourth is American rookie John Hopkins, an easygoing youngster who’s portrayed as kind of great new western-hemisphere hope for the sport--perhaps its first U.S. superstar--and who seems destined for a degree of success on the track that, in this year at least, he doesn’t quite achieve (perhaps to the disappointment of Neale, who appears to have constructed a good deal of the coverage around his progress). We’re keyed into the interrelationships by a bevy of commentators, mostly sports reporters covering the races, who also offer nuggets about the history of the circuit and its past greats, some who enjoyed triumph and some tragedy. The 2001-2002 season is also marked by the introduction of a new bike model, with an engine that allows increased speed; that’s another element that ratchets up the sense of excitement.

Overall Neale has done his job about as imaginatively as one might reasonably expect. Knowing that many viewers won’t be afficionados, he offers the sort of basic information that will serve as an introduction, but at the same time he includes enough “advanced” details and inside bits to satisfy dedicated fans. (The periodic comments from a doctor who’s devoted his life to studying and treating cyclists are particularly enlightening, if also a bit strange.) Sometimes the lack of slickness shows--this isn’t a high-budget project, however high-octane it may be--and some viewers will certainly wonder whether the recklessness and disdain for life and limb represented by the sport deserves this sort of glorification at all. But on its own terms this is a well-made, if not terribly thoughtful or critical, treatment of an increasingly popular sports event.

“Faster” is the first release from Slamdance, an outfit associated with the second-tier film festival that’s considered Sundance’s grubby younger sibling. It seems a pretty appropriate marriage of product and promoter. 

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