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Love The Beast: Not Kelsey Grammar, but the Hulk

Love the Beast movie posterYep. Another car movie. This one’s a documentary. It is a product of Eric Bana the Bruce Banner that everyone loved to hate one summer eight years ago. Remember the big gloves that made noise when you punched things? Anyway, Bana redeemed himself by playing the evil Romulan in the most recent Star Trek movie so we can let it slide. This is about his personal life anyway. Specifically it’s about the car and it’s importance in a man’s life. In every man’s life. Except maybe Tophat’s. He’s a bit of girly man. The only racing game he ever like was Rock N’ Roll Racing.

As a kid I wanted to be a race car driver. I think it was just the Ricky Bobby desire to go fast. So very very fast.  Trouble was I didn’t really know how to go about it. So instead I just studied terms like apex, oversteer, and camber and put too much air in my bike tires. Over inflated tires meant last friction with the road which meant more speed. At least until it over heated and exploded. Luckily I was stopped at that point. My 16th birthday loomed ever closer and so did my chance to finally hit the road. I poured over my Grandpa’s old Motor Trend’s and when I turned 15 or so I flipped through ever Autotrader I could get my hands on so I had a good grasp on prices. Finally the day came. I had the misfortune of getting the infamous Lief for my driving test. Rumor was he passed a guy years back and the next day the guy died in a wreck so if you were male and you got Lief you were taking the test twice. I aced maneuverability, missed the road portion by a couple of points and finally earned my freedom a week later.

My first car was nothing special, just 1989 Mazda 323 hatchback with absolutely no bells or whistles. I got it off my great-aunt who spent money like a vegetarian uses steak knives. On the upside it had a manual gearbox and low mileage. The summer after my 16th birthday was like nothing else. When I wasn’t earning gas money or getting in shape for football my friends and I were cruising around the back roads just seeing what we could do.

Eric Bana the Beast

Nothing screams 16 like the hood of the car pose.

That’s the same story Bana wanted to tell with The Beast. The difference was, the Australian’s first car was a 1977 Ford Falcon XB which, you may recall, is the same car featured in Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. Well, Mel’s was a ’74, but who’s counting? Not only did he have a sweet ride for his first foray on to the open road, but he still owns the car. The documentary centers on Bana and his long time friend as they compete in the Targa Tasmania rally race in the completely restored for racing Beast but it details the history of the car and Bana’s love for it.

He bought the car at the age of 15 and spent his youth in his parents’ garage with his best friends. At first they worked to restore it, then they continued to tinker and improve upon it. Eventually Bana ran the car in the 1996 Targa Tasmania after a partial rebuild to fit it for racing and so he felt it only fitting to run the race again after the new restoration. In addition to the racing footage and discussion of Bana’s youth, the film is interspersed with dialogue between Bana and car buffs Jay Leno and Jeremy Clarkson. The gearheads discuss a man’s love for his car and the important role a car plays in man’s quest for independence and power. Clarkson stays true to form by emphasizing his distaste for muscle cars, saying they are great looking, great sounding, but in the end they are complete “rubbish.”

Unfortunately a significant amount of time is given to a discussion between Bana and psychoanalyst to the stars Dr. Phil. I’ve never liked Dr. Phil’s voice and it grated on my nerves throughout the discussion which focused on Bana’s justification for his 25 year love affair with a collection of steel parts he has many times disassembled and reassembled with help from what have become life long friends. I will concede that Dr. Phil did make some interesting pop psychology comments and his voice never stretched into his annoying pseudo yell.

Bana shows some real emotion and the film is full of highs and lows, but in the end I failed to connect with Bana and his Beast. I felt I was watching the Hulk all over again. It was technically sound, and the subject matter was great but I wasn’t drawn in. Maybe I’ve been so disconnected from the true driving experience for so long that I can no longer relate to Bana’s passion. In 2007 my wife made me sell my 323 citing safety reasons, mainly the fact that the doors weren’t as wide as my forearm, and I bought a very practical Hyundai Elantra. It was the first year of the redesign and it succeeded in breaking the Korean stereotype of cheap cars whose parts start falling off as you pull away from the dealership. But the steering wheel feels like it should be in a game cabinet, the suspension is comfy but it corners like an old Cadillac, and it’s just plain boring. Still, I made sure to get a five speed so at least I have a bit of get up and go, especially when I drop it into fourth on the interstate.

1989 Mazda 323 hatchback

I wonder if I could find one that hasn't been hung on a post and had it's frame straightened...

But despite my car castration Love of the Beast should have been good enough to draw me back in to those summer evenings when we found that deserted narrow road with the S curve or the long straight away where we could top out our little speed machines. But it didn’t. There was a time or two when the movie dipped into full race mode dividing up the screen between aerial shots, bumper shots, and driver shots and the music crescendos  in time to the roar of the 600 horsepower V-8 and you could hear the urgency in the navigator’s voice as he called out the turns when I was almost there. I almost had that exhilaration of anticipation of speed and doom as Bana came within inches of death in every corner. But I didn’t.

Maybe I’ll pickup an Autotrader next time I’m at the grocery and see if anybody’s got 323 for sale. I bet there’s some lonely roads around here begging just waiting to eat me for breakfast.

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