No, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t play the title role in “The World’s Fastest Indian”–he merely spends his time mounting and riding it instead.Before you get a picture in your mind of the grisliest love scenes captured on film since Hopkins went hot and heavy with Nicole Kidman in “The Human Stain,” I should point out that the “Indian” in question is a 1920 V-10 Scout motorcycle and Hopkins plays Burt Munro, an adorably grumpy New Zealand retiree (when a neighbor asks him to do something about his overgrown lawn, he burns the grass instead of mowing it) who is fixing it up in order to break the world’s land-speed record at the annual time trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats. His neighbors raise the money for his trip–partially to help him achieve his and, presumably, partially to get him out of their hair for a while–and he travels to America and begins a long and winding road trip to his destination.
You can pretty much guess the rest. He meets any number of colorful people–including a transvestite motel clerk and a friendly woman (Diane Ladd) who takes this total stranger into her bed five minutes after meeting him (leaving us to wonder if he is going to mention this particular detail to his sweetheart back home)–who are inexplicably charmed by his manner and he gets into any number or situations that are resolved by explaining in excruciating detail about his dream. When he arrives, he is shocked–shocked!–to learn that the mean fuddy-duddies in charge of the tournament won’t let him run his bike because he didn’t bother to trifle with silly formalities like registration, an entrance fee or any safety equipment. However, if you think he is going to let that stop him, you clearly haven’t seen enough movies about the triumph of the human spirit and such.“The World’s Fastest Indian” is nicely made–director Roger Donaldson (who previously worked with Hopkins on a not-bad version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” two decades ago) has a good eye for mid-1960's period detail and the racing footage at the end is pretty nifty–but the whole thing quickly becomes unbearable because the central character is portrayed as so relentlessly charming and poignant–nearly every scene has him delivering a noble speech with extra-noble music playing on the soundtrack–that even the most forgiving of viewers will quickly get sick of him. Matters aren’t helped much by Hopkins’s scenery-chewing performance as the 2 fast, 2 furious and 2 crochety Munson–he comes off as such a blowhard throughout that you relish the moments when he has his riding helmet on since they are the only scenes when you can be pretty much assured that he will finally be quiet.