Something fresh for the drag-racing crowd it's not, Ali Afshar's movie "Born 2 Race."
It's a powerful statement for import cars, this PG-13 film that makes its North American premiere this Tuesday at Hollywood's famous Chinese Threater, with a four-cylinder Subaru dominating the scary-bad domestic.
A few cursory references to the National Hot Rod Assocaition, its "Pomona Driving School," and its culmination at the prestigious high-school drags hardly make it a "race the strip and not the street" trumpet.
For all the clear messages that illegal street racing is dangerous, foolish, and career-blunting, the focus is the action.
It features felonious reckless-driving scenes, trash-talking teens, one-upsmanship, dangerously hot girls hopelessly gravitating to dangerously cool guys, strained parental relationships with a mom who worries and a dad with his own baggage who likes to challenge, fistfights, a tough-talking teacher, endearing nerds, and a beautiful girl (Nicole Badaan as Jessica) who digs the smell of leather in a car and equally can handle a make-up brush and a wrench.
So "Born 2 Race" has all the clichés. Then again, so did "Rocky," which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976. Now, 35 years later, the dynamo who has one foot in the entertainment industry as a television actor and the other on a sport-compact race car accelerator is a smaller-budget Stallone.
Afshar is the champ-in-waiting, the indy filmaker who's more Indy-minded, the producer with a quick mind to match the quick cars in this drag-racing-flavored family film. A two-time sport-compact series titlist, he combines his acting and movie-making passion with his love for drag racing, and the result is an offering with an appeal that spans generations.
He collaborated with director Alex Ranarivelo, writer/producer George Shamieh, and writer Steve Sarno to settle on a script that showcases some hidden Hollywood talent in Joseph Cross as main character Danny Krueger, John Pyper-Ferguson as dad Frank Krueger, and Brando Eaton as Jake Kendall.
Starring in the film, too, are Sherry Stringfield (of "ER" acclaim) as Danny's mom and drama teacher Christina Moore, the "I've-seen-her-somewhere" because we've seen her in everything from "Will and Grace," "Two and Half Men," "90210," and "Hawthorne" to shampoo commercials.
Before Tuesday it's available on pre-order, in DVD or Blu Ray, and has been released on AT&T, Verizon FiOS, and video on demand. It was released in Germany last October and in France this January.
The storyline of "Born To Race" centers on rebellious and selfish Danny Krueger, who is about to drive himself to jail with an accident at an illegal street race. His mom ships him off to a small town to live with his estranged father, a has-been racer and recovered alcoholic. Danny finds plenty of hot car action and ragged-edge attractions but ultimately enters the NHRA High School Drags and is forced to seek his dad's cooperation to put the local hot dog (and his misguided old man) in his place.
With ideal casting and a script that actually keeps us wanting more for 99 minutes, Afshar scored a bulls-eye.
"I think you can enjoy it from a pre-teen all the way to fathers and grandfathers It's an inspirational family story with a backdrop of drag racing. I can't imagine some person not liking the movie. It's fun, young, and it’s drag racing,," Afshar said. "It's not a documentary, but the biggest thing that we liked about it is that it's technically correct. It's not like the other movies that racers kind of laugh at."
Not that racers would laugh at the film, by any means, but in all fairness, it does have scenes featuring:
- Mayhem in the streets with nary a policeman taking notice (although Afshar said with authority, "A track is a million times more safe than on the streets, period."),
- The smart-aleck antagonist jumping from his car at the starting line and pumping his arms to incite the crowd, then getting back into his car and racing, and
- An accident scene in which family and bystanders reach the top end of the track on foot long before a Safety Safari vehicle shows up.
Afshar explained the hot-dogging driver by calling that lapse in reality "a little cheesy but not technically incorrect. Hey -- it's a movie. We had to make it exciting."
He said it with a charming smile and shrug that made any red flags kind of teeny. Besides, he said, "Every story has been told. It has a protagonist, an antagonist, a love triangle. It's an escape. We wanted it to be afamily movie. We didn;t want an R rating. We didn't want it to be too cutting-edge."
Still, Afshar said he prides himself that, unlike in one big-dollar film, the cars' performance is realistic. In that popular, high-budget movie, Afshar said, "the guy's doing 40 miles an hour in the dirt and he downshifts, and the car does a wheelie. That could never happen. That immediately takes you out of the movie if you’re a racer or know anything bout racing. So in ours, if the car does a wheelie, the car does a wheelie. If it runs 8s, it runs 8s. If it runs 10s, it runs 10s. Shifting is accurate."
Afshar drove cars in some scenes, was the track announcer, and had his own cameo appearance at the opening of the show -- partly for fun, partly for holding down costs. However, he cut 28 minutes of filming, some of it his own acting, for the final product. "The story has to propel," he said.
Here's a bit of a spoiler, with some behind-the-scenes explanation:
At the end of the action, a car -- we won't say whose -- goes airborne, especially in what seems like an unlikely circumstance. Afshar said. "The car was supposed to hit the wall and rollover on its roof. It wasn;t supposed to do an Evel Knievel flip. But our stunt man -- there was a man in that car . . . We were like, 'Oh, my Lord!' Look at the height of that thing!' You know that it can happen, but it's very uncommon. Then again, it's a movie."
If, at the conclusion of "Born 2 Race," anyone who hasn't gotten enough of Ali Afshar and his brand of excitement" need not fret. He's planning a sequel, which should be plenty intriguing, and he has a couple of projects in the works.
He's producing a realty show called "My First Love," which, he said, "reunites deserving people with the first car that they had to get rid of. If you joined the military or had a sickness or maybe a pregnancy that forced you for economic reasons to give up your car and you loved that car, we actually go find the real car, the actual car, and give it to you in a surprise reveal. You'll love it! We're not going to pimp it out. We restore the real car the way you had it."
Also in production is a high-school wrestling movie set in Petaluma, Calif. -- Afshar's hometown -- in the 1980s.
"This year we're doing two more car movies," Afshar said of his schedule for ESX Productions, the twin prong to his ESX Motorsports business that shows off Subaru and Aston Martin models with track-day promotions and other ambassadorial ventures.
Afshar also said he is planning to be competing at the racetrack, in the Lucas Oil Series Drag Racing Series sportsman ranks. His plan is to drive a Subaru BRZ, the sleek little affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car that Car and Driver Magazine called "a knockout" and Motor Trend labeled "off the charts." He said he's hoping to work with Greg Anderson mainstay Jeff Perley in that venture.
"If we do get the budget from Subaru and they say yes," Afshar said, "We're going to come out with a wicked rear-wheel-drive BRZ and it's going to fit in something here [LODRS]. So I'll be back.
"We'll put it in the fastest class we can get it in. We'll try to do 6s, which is doable," he said, with a qualifier: "if we can go RWD and use a domestic tranny and drive train and rear end . . . My goal is to put Subaru on the map and keep opening the eyes of the world. These cars are awesome. They’re underrated."
That's one thing anyone who knows Ali Afshar can count on: he's always thinking -- and he was "Born 2 Race."