Scott (Mark Schneider), is a child of privilege. After he kills an old woman during an illegal street drag race, his hotshot father/lawyer gets the judge to merely suspend his license, rather than lock him away. This is not an auspicious start to the protagonist’s story in Burnout, the 1979 drag racing flick from writer/producer Martin J. Roseman and director Graham Meech-Burkestone. We’re supposed to be able to root for the hero in a film like this. There’s no hoping to see Scott’s redemption when he hasn’t had to suffer. It seems pretty tone deaf for 1979, much less today.
Scott’s father, played, I think (the credits are very barren), by Bob Louden, is setup as the type of domineering jerk one would expect, but he takes a decent early turn. His son is interested in drag racing, so he decides to bankroll Scott’s entry into the sport.
The introductory stuff in this movie is very thin. Little time is spent developing these two characters, as the main purpose of this film seemed to be showing footage of NHRA drag racing events. Viewers will see lots of racers from the era, and the relentless popping explosions of the engines are as constant a presence in this film as it is at a real-life event. Viewers who aren’t into drag racing might find this unendurable.
For the shitty movie fan, it’s the lack of forward motion in the plot, or any sort of effort at more than a thin veneer of story, that rankles. There’s a reason movies with race cars can make for gripping shitty cinema. Fast cars are awesome. But there is such a thing as too much. It’s wonderful that so much real race footage was gathered to make this film, but with such weak storytelling, it’s like watching a collection of stock footage.
That’s the bad. There really isn’t any good anywhere else, though. Scenes featuring dialogue are short and trite, and most reads from the cast are amateurish. Schneider was the best, and has had a long career as an actor. Even this man who made a career of acting managed to butcher his craft in this dog.
I’ve seen many, many films that owe their length to gratuitous padding of their running times, but Burnout is an extreme example. Take out shots that have nothing to do with the plot, or reasonably establish atmosphere, and this flick would have lost at least half of its 90-minute running time. It’s not just that the screenplay was thin. Rather, it’s like Rosen and Meech-Burkestone took an already thin script and starved it half to death. Everything that could have been interesting, whether it be familial or professional conflict, or the life of being in a touring racing team, is waved away like an annoying fly. By the end, Burnout had morphed into an underdog story and I almost didn’t notice. The stakes at the climax are clear only to those viewers capable of astounding feats of concentration. For most everyone else, they will just be waiting for the noise to stop.
Burnout was a valiant effort to promote the sport of drag racing by people who loved it, notably supporting actor/racer John Zendejas, but they took the fastest sport in the world and made it tedious. Whoops.
Burnout tumbles down into the bad half of the Watchability Index, shoving aside Act of Valor at #236. Yuck.