Sometimes in life, you need to take a moment and appreciate life and it’s simple pleasures. Not everything is about the complexities of film and life. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. You can’t turn your brain off but at least you can pause it for a moment. It’s important to live for things like puppies, baby, flowers, and watching buses getting raced and destroyed. If you are looking for at least one of those, you might enjoy the new documentary Smash: Motorized Mayhem.
Smashed: Motorized Mayhem is the story of a small town, tucked deep in the “real” Florida, where a group of blue-collar folks gather to race in the bi-annual wild event known as Figure-8 School Bus Racing. Nineteen full-sized school buses pack a puny 3.8-mile figure-8 track and race twenty laps to crown a victor. The film follows three drivers and the track promoter during a three-week intensive push to prepare for race night.
Directed by first time director Kevin J. Burroughs, this film has all of the ingredients needed to make for an interesting documentary. It has a compelling subject matter. You probably have not seen a film about school bus racing. I know I haven’t. We all like to watch cars be used in speedy and dangerous ways. It has an area that is not commonly explored in documentaries, rural Florida. It even could have a human element, allowing viewers to understand something that is not part of their own culture. This film could be a real hidden gem that looks at something that not many people know about.
Unfortunately, this film isn’t really any of those things. It is instead an exercise in promotion for a fun little event. For a film with a subject like this, it is a shame that it is not as compelling as it can be. It feels less like a documentary and more like a short promotional film stretched out to make feature length. With a runtime of just over 70 minutes, it feels like we are missing out on what could be some more enlightening interviews. It feels like it is missing that special something. We only get the surface level details and aw shucks moments that is typical of a made for TV documentary. This would be fine if the film had production values that were a little bit higher.
The visuals have the appearance of being at least over six or seven years older than when we are seeing them. The narration, provided by W. Earl Brown, is sporadic and at times confusing, taking away from a story that could have been perfectly told without it. The narration makes several allusions to political incorrectness that do not really make sense in the broader context of the film. I am curious as to why they are there. Perhaps a more in-depth approach would have connected these ideas together but in the film’s current state, it makes no sense.
As a whole, Smash: Motorized Mayhem is surface level entertainment designed to entertain an audience with a familiarity with what is happening. As I am clearly either not a part of that audience or wanted more bang for my buck, I didn’t hate or dislike this film. I was entertained and engaged for the 70 minutes that it was on and I could see some people really liking it but I didn’t feel a personal connection to the characters or what was happening on screen. There are definitely worse ways to spend your time than watching a movie about bus racing.
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-Liam S. O'Connor