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May 31-June 6, 2006

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Car Culture

Engines of Desire: Car flicks to flip over

By Novella Carpenter

Summertime is a great time for bad car movies. Whether it's because we're hot or just bored during the long days of summer, the hushed, dark hallway of a movie house calls to us, tells us to sit down, eat popcorn and watch car chases. They're dumb and dirty and oh-so-easy. In terms of mediocrity, this year's lineup won't disappoint.

'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' (June 16) I'm not going to lie: I'm really excited to see this movie! From the moment in the trailer when Li'l Bow Wow says, "If you ain't out of control, you ain't in control" and we see a car sliding up an incredibly tight parking garage loop, I'm sold. I love the bad plot line: Sean Boswell, played by Lucas Black, is wanted in three states for speeding tickets, destruction of public property and "illegal underground street racing." Instead of going to juvie, he opts to travel to Tokyo to stay with his father at a military school. Of course, racing is in his blood, and he quickly finds a posse, cars to race, a nemesis and, gulp, the nemesis' girlfriend.

There hasn't been a movie explicitly about the sport of drifting until now. Very few people even know what it is. Basically it's been around for 30 years, and refers to using both front and back tires in a perfect combo of speed, angle and line that enables the car to drift across the track. Lots of burning rubber adds to the allure.

The lineup of cars for Tokyo Drift is pretty great, too. Dennis McCarthy, the car wrangler for the movie, used 230 vehicles to shoot the flick. Half of them were from Japan, filmed on location. There's a nod to American-made, too. Guess which car Sean drives for his life-or-death race? A Mustang his dad had out back in Tokyo, natch. Sean and his grease-monkey friends have one night to fix it up. In reality, wrangler McCarthy said it took them two months to customize the 'Stang at a cost of $80,000 and a series of bigger and bigger engines. I think American steel weighs too much to drift.

'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' (Aug. 4) OK, the potential is huge. Will Ferrell is hilariously garbed as a Wonder Bread-sponsored NASCAR driver whose motto is "If you ain't first, you're last." Embodying the cheesy horror of the pro-racing world, Ricky Bobby is a simple bumpkin who just likes to drive fast. When a sauve Gaul threatens his territory, the movie hopefully develops a plot. Still, making fun of NASCAR is like shooting fish in a barrel.

'Cars' (June 9) Duds is my guess. Set to be released last winter, Cars then went back into production. The new trailer looks a little bit cooler, what with the amazing renderings of the American Southwest. But the story line--hot-shot racecar blunders into Radiator Springs and meets a host of forgotten car characters and learns about life--is uninspiring. The car characters, which include a tubby police vehicle, a burnt-out VW bus and an Italian forklift named Guido who can't speak English, are so mundane. It's hard to get excited about the cars as characters if they're just stereotypes. I blame Disney.

Other notables: 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' (June 28) Finally released to a large audience, this movie mines for a conspiracy theory as to why clean-burning EVs were almost exterminated. Is it greedy oil companies? Stupid GM? Or something more sinister? Find out the truth!

'Miami Vice' (July 28) Michael Mann, the director behind the TV series, goes for the feature-film version. Jamie Foxx as Tubbs is a brilliant move, but Colin Farrell as Crockett? No way! He's not old enough. Still, same gorgeous city, boat chases and of course high-speed car crashes. I couldn't exactly tell from the trailer, but I think it's still a Ferrari.

'Little Miss Sunshine' (July 28) Great actors--Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear--play a dysfunctional family who climb into a VW for a cross-country trip.

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Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.