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March 5, 2009

3

Speedway Junky

by Franz Patrick


Speedway Junky (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

I’ll come right out and admit that this movie is far from perfect. In fact, I think its very flawed regarding its direction, editing, how the story unfolded, and syrupy melodrama. Still, I couldn’t help but get very into it because of the dynamics of the characters played by Jesse Bradford, Jordan Brower, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Daryl Hannah. I keep forgetting that Bradford can be a good actor because the first film I saw him in was the barely mediocre “Swimfan.” Watching this film reminded me of how great he can be like he was in “Heights” and “Happy Endings.” I really cared for him here as a would-be male hustler with dreams of one day becoming a racecar driver. His character reeks with naiveté but that’s one of the best things about the film because something comedic always happens to him. I’ve never seen Thomas in an edgier role because I’m so used to seeing him in harmless films and television shows like “Tom and Huck” and “8 Simple Rules,” respectively. It was nice to see that he’s capable of playing a not-so-friendly and a little dangerous character. Another person that surprised me was Hannah. I have to admit that the only movie that I can remember seeing her in was “Kill Bill” (which I’ve seen about ten times), despite her long repertoire, so it was kind of weird seeing her here as a broken down, somewhat helpless ex-prostitute (in addition to not having an eyepatch over one of her eyes). She shines in her scenes because she provided warmth and compassion (her mother-nurturing side) in contrast to the streets of Las Vegas (her ex-prostitute side). My eyes were glued to the screen when she was telling Bradford one of her stories with a customer. But most of all, it was Brower who really got to me. I’m surprised he doesn’t appear in more movies because I see a lot of potential in him. His struggle about finally finding someone he can love but that of which he cannot have is so sad but it’s easy to relate to. Out of the four characters, I wanted to know about him the most. “Speedway Junky” is written and directed Nickolas Perry, but I think it would’ve been much stronger if Gus Van Sant had taken over (he was the executive producer). I saw a lot of similarities with “My Own Private Idaho” not just in relation to the characters but the themes that it tried to tackle. Again, this movie is very flawed but I saw greatness in it–which could’ve been highlighted by a more capable director.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 5 2009

    I think we¨’re basically on the same page here. My relationship with this is more like I ‘failed to dislike’ it, more than actually liking it. Because I’m lazy, I’ll simply quote my own review:

    “When it took a long time for me to actually care about [Johnny and Eric], that’s because I think Bradford’s Johnny is not all that likeable. I simply had trouble understanding why Eric would fall for him. His ‘rebel without a cause’ shtick seemed a little too self-absorbed, and thus Eric’s selflessness also became a source of frustration. However, while never exactly subtle, over the course of the movie the personal bond and tensions between them becomes easier to accept. Where Bradford initially struggles to make Johnny’s vulnerability seem anything other than whiny, Brower’s Eric is far more interesting. (…)

    Still, it could be that Speedway Junky requires a certain suspension of disbelief to be truly engaging. Just when it almost had me hooked, it served up an ending so laced with cliches and sentimental predictability that I left it feeling disappointed. As I believe I’ve said before, I’ve got absolutely nothing against sentimentality or tear-jerkery (if that’s a word), so long as it serves to make us feel closer to the characters. Here however, it threathens to undercut what has come before, by making it all seem like preparation for a thinly veiled plea for our tears.”

    Reply
  2. Mar 5 2009

    Hmm, for me, I didn’t just fail to dislike it. I actually liked it. And yeah, the ending was hella dramatic but… I sooo completely bought it at the time. You should’ve seen me–I was thinking, “What’s gonna happen next??” over and over in my head. haha.

    And that syrupy melodrama DID make me feel closer the characters. When Bradford finally opens up to Brower, that made me both really happy and sad because I know it can never work out that way. Don’t tell me you didn’t buy the whole thing even for just a second! ;)

    Reply
  3. Mar 6 2009

    Of course I did, Franz;). My problem with it is that it took so long for me to accept that the relationship between Eric and Johnny had something to say to me, that I was immediately put off when I realized that had by now turned into a decently engaging film was pulling all these cheap tricks on me again. But yeah, I guess I liked a little more than what was articulated in my review. And you’re right about Jordan Brewer. He really made Eric a far more interesting character than Johnny ever was. Plus he’s really cute.

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