Catching Air

Supercross delivers the action, and some truly lame acting.

The actors are pretty, but this film is totally a vehicle for the vehicles.
The actors are pretty, but this film is totally a vehicle for the vehicles.
Surfers, skateboarders, and desert racers have all had their moment at the movies recently. Now the motocross crowd gets its turn. Supercross, which provides a glimpse at what its makers call "the second-fastest-growing motorsport in the U.S., behind only NASCAR," is anything but a dramatic masterpiece. But it features enough dirt-eating, bone-jolting, face-planting race action to send the audience directly from the popcorn stand to the chiropractor's office. The filmmakers -- including director Steve Boyum, a former motocross rider and Hollywood stuntman who obviously loves this fast-emerging sport -- capture the daring of the high-flying cyclists with thrilling skill. And the obligatory big-race finale, on a gnarly course at Las Vegas' Jack Boyd Stadium that's mined with awesome jumps, slippery ravines, and treacherous hairpins, fills the need of every racing movie to give the hard-riding, grime-streaked hero and the loyalists who've stood behind him their well-earned moment on the podium, trophy held aloft.

Unfortunately, Supercross also lets its characters talk. Even for a movie clearly aimed at 15-to-25-year-olds, this is one tin-eared piece of business -- a fourth-grade play performed on assorted Hondas, Kawasakis, and Yamahas. Like some of its predecessors -- John Frankenheimer's famous car-racing film Grand Prix and the more recent skateboard epic Lords of Dogtown come to mind -- it might have worked better as a behind-the-scenes documentary than a narrative movie burdened with creaky irrelevancies like plot and character. The screenplay was perpetrated by a couple of guys named Ken Solarz and Bart Baker, and it's obvious that they've memorized every page in the Big Boy's Encyclopedia of Movie Clichés. The knowledgeable, gearhead-heavy audience at the preview screening groaned in response to its clunky melodramatics and fidgeted whenever the spectacle they came to see -- knobby-tired motorcycles and their flashy riders sailing through the air -- was interrupted by an ill-staged love scene or the dispensation of another piece of advice on the order of "This is your life, and you're messing it up."

For what they're worth, here are some of the gruesome details. A pair of fatherless, Southern California-born brothers, K.C. and Trip Carlyle (Reba cast member Steve Howey and Grounded for Life regular Mike Vogel, respectively) have been struggling in their dual roles as pool boys and do-it-yourself weekend motocross riders. Inevitably, they catch the eye of a well-funded factory team. The more conservative, older brother, K.C., gets the factory ride; the wild child, Trip, is left behind, and what has always been good-natured sibling rivalry sours into hostility. "Motocross is our life," Trip announces, as if we didn't get the idea. Toss in K.C.'s rich, Corvette-driving girlfriend, Zoe (Sophia Bush), the usual selection of snarly, on-track rivals (actor Channing Tatum and the amply tattooed, real-life Supercross star Tyler Evans), and a developing romance between the younger brother and a pretty, plucky blonde rider named Piper Cole (Cameron Richardson, from the TV series Point Pleasant), and you've got the package. Before you can adjust a sprocket, you see that the brothers will eventually find a way to solve their family problems, outrace the big dogs in their role as romantic privateers, and live happily ever after -- or at least until next season at the track. They even get a little help from a surrogate parent (Robert Patrick), an old-school biker who used to party with their departed father and is now wise in the ways of the world.

Anyway, forget all that stuff, especially if you're an anxiety-ridden 16-year-old just looking for an escape. The attractions here are the racing scenes, which look far more dramatic and feel much more dangerous on the big screen than on any TV set and are suitably jumped-up by a thunderous rock score by Jasper Randall. As with any form of motor racing -- NASCAR, Indy cars, motorcycles -- there's no substitute for actually going to the track and taking in the noise, the speed, and the commingled perfumes of burning fuel and scorched rubber. But a well-made racing movie represents a decent second-place finish, and Supercross fits the bill whenever it gets out of the Carlyle brothers' ratty apartment and takes to the dirt. That's where the real drama happens, wheel-to-wheel, elbow-to-elbow, high above the madding crowd.

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