[19 August 2005]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“Motocross is our life.” So begins the saga of the brothers Carlyle. With their revered biker dad dead of unknown causes, narrator Trip (Mike Vogel) and older brother K.C. (Steve Howey) are left to fend for themselves and seek fame as great racers. They do so against a spectacular California backdrop, scooting and flying their bikes with the sort of ridiculous fearlessness that afflicts boys in sports action movies.
To its credit, the made-for-peanuts Supercross: The Movie is modest of ambition: like ‘40s musicals, it arranges a loose-goosey plot in order to showcase a series of fabulous dance numbers, here involving motorbikes and sand, smash cuts and frequent slow motion. Essentially, the brothers want to make a move, from motocross to supercross, where the money is and where they will get famous. Both gifted racers, they’re also conveniently opposite in temperament and appearance: tall and dark, K.C. rides “old school,” according to Trip, playing it safe, whereas sandy-haired, slight-bodied Trip takes after their father, a “frequent flyer,” who relishes catapulting himself-and-vehicle into the air, spinning and twisting until landing just hard enough to jolt your teeth fillings a bit. Yeah, “We’re tight,” asserts Trip, “But that doesn’t mean we’re not competitive.”
Dude, they compete like crazy. Following a stunning first appearance at a public race, they’re both noted by Team Nami owner Clay (Robert Carradine). But he chooses to hire compliant-seeming K.C. as a “blocker” to protect his own son Rowdy (Channing Tatum) during races, not to mention ensure that he wins those races. Unlike the brothers, who mostly have each other’s backs, the bald-headed, seriously inked, and vaguely egomaniacal Rowdy expects all to bow down, including a makeup artist working on him before a photo shoot. When she waves her wedding ring at him, insisting, “This means something to me,” he scoffs that it means nothing to him. Rowdy’s a careless, obnoxious, spoiled child, the film’s designated villain; too bad he’s so colorless.
At first, K.C. thinks playing second fiddle to Rowdy is the inevitable tradeoff for big money sponsorship—“purple superhero suits,” new tires, perfectly maintained equipment. He chastises his little brother for being selfish and irresponsible, for still cleaning pools (the business they share at film’s start), and not appreciating the sizeable cash flow his gig with Nami provides. As the brothers share an apartment, and a small one at that, K.C. feels entitled to rip Trip for not carrying his end, and Trip feels obligated to clap back. Yes, it’s on—the competition part of the movie.
The other, vaguely romantic, part is sort of framed by this part, that is, each brother finds the perfect female complement to his reductive role. So, K.C., the sell-out (at least for a while) woos a rich girl, Zoe (Sophia Bush), a dark and striking law student whose family owns one of the mansions where the boys clean pools. And Trip finds a scrappy girl down at the track, Piper (Cameron Richardson), blond, yellow-suited, mechanically inclined, and oh yes, very athletic. She’s also a great jumper on her bike: when she does an amazing 360 degree flip in the air, she explains it: “You just have to commit.” Even Trip—not the sharpest nail in the box—figures out that this is metaphorical instruction for his relationship skills. (As Piper aptly puts it, Trip is a “typical guy, when it comes to the real deal, they’re all duh.”)
Piper’s dad Earl (Robert Patrick, the T-1000 himself, looking vaguely uninterested during the reaction shots that make up the bulk of his role) provides Trip with a vehicle. He also secures Trip’s opposition to K.C., class- and morality-wise. Earl has a little company called Hogs’ Heaven, and knew Trip’s dad back in the day, when they were bikers. (Strangely, Earl has a son who starts the film as an excellent racer, young Owen [Aaron Carter], but he’s disappeared from the movie once Tip steps up.) And so Earl plays mentor, making Trip a “privateer,” that is, not sold out, a term the recurrent race announcer uses frequently. (This announcer actually just narrates the film: you could shut your eyes and know when which rider is looking at what during each race, as well as all the emotional stakes, who’s dissing whom, before it starts—the guy is very helpful.)
Both the girlfriends need to work a little to make their boys appreciate them. They are, after all, motorcycle boys, free of girly influences, save for the many short-shortsed beauties who offer up their cleavage for autographs, mostly for Rowdy, in throwaway shots that highlight his bad-boyness. (The movie features no moms, only a pile-on of dads: the dead one, the bad one, and the good one.) The girls also reinforce the film’s interest in class differences. Rowdy represents the immoral upper class; both Piper and Trip come from good-hearted “chopper trash.” Even Zoe has to learn a little lesson on taking up with the “right” class: standing by the rail to cheer on K.C. (like Earl, she tends to be framed in reaction shots), she’s approached by a blond girl, who asks, “Who do you belong to?” Zoe, lawyer in training and quite wealthy, thank you, rephrases quaintly: “I’m dating K.C.” With that, the girl reads her out, calling Zoe “One of those ‘I don’t belong to anyone’ chicks. Your shoes cost more, but you’re still one of us.”
She isn’t really, except in the way Marlene Dietrich was “one of us” among the Arab women walking after the French Legionnaires in Morocco. Still, it’s an instructive distinction to make, as the most important difference here is between boys and girls. Piper rides her bike beautifully, but she’ll never be “famous.”
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/supercross-2005/