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Heroes of the Zeroes: The World’s Fastest Indian

by on December 7, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The World’s Fastest Indian”
Rated PG-13

Ambushing audiences isn’t easy for Anthony Hopkins — an actor from whom we’ve essentially known what to expect since the double-shot rejuvenation of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Remains of the Day.”

In the Zeroes, those expectations led to stentorian shouting and a slumming slate: listless Lecter sequels, throwaway parts in thankless Oscar-bait dramas, “action-comedy” with Chris Rock.

“The World’s Fastest Indian” — a 2005 biopic about 68-year-old New Zealander Burt Munro’s attempt to top 200 mph on a rickety antique motorcycle — hardly beat the world.

Director Roger Donaldson’s script relied heavily on fish-out-of-water comedy, and J. Peter Robinson’s score resembled a Rally’s ad. But Hopkins propelled it with vibrant, wily, unpredictable joie de vivre he hadn’t unleashed since “Nixon.”

Burt is an idealistic playboy still translating vitality into virility and a geezer’s guile into getting what he wants. Racing his rebuilt 1920 Indian goes beyond passion; it’s his oxygen, and it’s running low.

Arteriosclerosis would keep most from offering paeans to speed gods along the hallowed horizon of Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. But Burt makes a pilgrimage to this mecca — where he’s shocked to learn rules and regulations trump the tempted fate he seeks.

Sleek and stubby like a Pinewood Derby car with a snarling engine, the Indian is Hopkins’ true co-star —an inanimate object with which he convincingly achieves road-hugging communion.

Donaldson’s passion project — adapted from his 1971 documentary — was unabashedly formulaic, but ace direction in the film’s climax offered some of the Zeroes’ most thrilling hold-your-breath moments.