Burt Munro is a far cry from Anthony Hopkins’s better-known, brain-eating Dr. Hannibal Lector, though perhaps the two are equally obsessive. But rather than tasty body parts, Burt is preoccupied with his 1920 Indian motorcycle – more specifically, with making it go faster.
Originally, the thing topped out at 45 miles per hour. But little by little, over the majority of his life and after many additions to the shelf of failed pistons marked “offerings to the gods of speed,” Burt fixes up that bike with rapt determination: His goal is to push it to more than 200 miles per hour.
A beloved fixture of his small New Zealand town, Burt is an eccentric codger of the best sort – he calls Confucius a “bloke” and takes a leak on his backyard lemon tree every morning. And, amusingly enough, the twin brother who died in his youth was actually named Ernie.
Part character study, “The World’s Fastest Indian” winds up part odyssey as well, following Burt’s journey as he carts that beloved Indian from his cozy New Zealand hometown to the speed-conducive Bonneville Salt Flats of northern Utah. It’s a long trek, made all the more difficult by Burt’s perpetual financial pinch and ominous heart trouble.
Blessed with affable, salt-of-the-earth cheer, though, Burt manages, and rolls gamely through the various adventures and colorful characters that help him along. There’s a boorish cab driver in rudely neon Hollywood, a lonely Utah woman who offers Burt a night in her bed and even an absurdly menacing, leather-clad band of motorcycle ruffians who challenge Burt to a “Grease”-style drag race.
But no matter how amiable, “Indian” finally overstuffs itself, dissolving into a ramble that glosses over Burt’s many acquaintances rather than exploring them. Based on a true story, writer-director Roger Donaldson (“The Recruit”) attempts to squeeze in every event from Burt’s life, though the film would have been better served by a more selective hand.
Hopkins, however, is in top form, rendering Burt an appealing old man and pulls off the famously tricky New Zealand accent. It’s too bad the film wears its feel-good nature so blatantly on its sleeve, undermining the emotional pull of his performance with schmaltzy background music and prototypically heartwarming platitudes.
The World’s Fastest Indian
At the Michigan Theater
Rating: 2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars