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MOVIE REVIEW

Motorcycle documentary has speed but little insight

"Faster," British director Mark Neale's triple-speed feature about a particularly dangerous class of motorcycle racing, has its share and then some of man-in-the-teeth-of-mortal-danger philosophizing. "You always wonder when it's going to happen. It will happen. You will fall off," recounts Wayne Rainey, a three-time champion. "They're all superstars, even the one at the back," says a mechanic, all moony. "They're crazy, they're going to kill themselves. Maybe," muses narrator Ewan McGregor. "But what about the buzz? The babes? The money?"

Ewan, babe-crazed or not in real life, is presumably a fan. And, to believe the press materials, so are 350 million others. Their passion, the madness of the sport, it's just too much. The machines are "brutal." On the track it's "real war." Feuds are waged and battles fought at 200 miles per hour. A team doctor, the one you'd expect to bring some sanity to the proceedings, talks wildly about the madness of the gods flowing in the riders' veins even as we see them flung into the air like so many Mardi Gras beads.

Cool.

But does this a documentary make? On the surface, it's there. The film, which showed at the Slamdance festival and is distributed by a subsidiary, lays out the basics of the sport. McGregor ticks off the enticements (see above) and the risks, among them permanent disability -- though apparently not death, at least if you're a world champion (there's no word on the mortality rate among riders who didn't take home the trophy). Now its time to plunk down and watch some racing. Valentino Rossi, cocky yet sweet, is leading the 2001 series; Max Biaggi, tightly wound and with all the charm of someone out on work release, is behind him. Garry McCoy, with a crazy wheel-spinning style and the unfortunate habit of breaking major bones, is trying to come back. Qualifying, races, crashes; celebrations for some, surgery for others. Then on to whatever country the next circuit is in.

McGregor tells us breathlessly that MotoGP is a world populated by "a couple of thousand highly skilled professionals." In "Faster," though, it feels like there are about 20, tops. A single team owner and one doctor; two "commentators," one plummy and the other a spittle-flinging raver; a half-dozen scarred past champions; and a bunch of throttle twisters barely past their teens, most speaking an incomprehensible mash of international English. "Better to go more faster on them," says one with a beatific smile.

Neale, taking a cue from his earlier "No Maps for These Territories," which featured cult writer William Gibson expounding on various subjects during a road trip, gets most of his commentary from people while they're driving cars, usually around the racetrack. We're in Italy or France or Japan, but you'd never know it. It's a planet edged with hay bales and chain-link fences, and the real world has no place here.

Nor, for that matter, do opposing viewpoints. People might line up on one side or the other of the supposedly controversial "elbow incident" between Rossi and Biaggi (shown not once but six times), but it all feels manufactured. Almost everyone quoted owes his or her livelihood not just to the sport of motorcycle racing, but specifically to the MotoGP class. And -- surprise, surprise -- one of the movie's backers is Dorna Sports SL, an "international sports and marketing company" that owns the whole thing.

In the end, promotion, as good as it may be, doesn't make for a real documentary. "Faster" is a kind of bone-crushing fun, but there's little drama and certainly no insight. I'm sure the folks at Dorna Sports would love to get a quote like " `Spellbound' for speed freaks!" but alas, that's exactly what "Faster" isn't.

Leighton Klein can be reached at lklein@globe.com.

Faster
Directed by: MarkNeale
With: EwanMcGregor (voice), Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi, Garry McCoy, John Hopkins
At: Kendall Square
Running time: 103 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (language, sports-related accidents)
**

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