Downhill Fast

A scheming dad and a pine-car derby yield a movie that nobody needed

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that your moviegoing family is absolutely up to date on every major release this year. Not a Friday goes by that you don't go see something new. Then you look in the paper and see that the only major release coming up this week is The Amityville Horror; problem is, you don't like scary movies or cash-in remakes. What are you to do?

You may be tempted to take the kids to a new flick called Down and Derby, but you need to nip that urge in the bud. Not that it's terrible, or likely to elicit any kind of emotional response whatsoever, for that matter. But you will regret paying money to see something that unfolds rather like something you'd watch on TV when you're ill and bedridden and confronted with nothing else but daytime soaps.

It begins with a Wonder Years-style voice-over that mercifully lasts for only one scene, in which young Phil Davis recalls his longstanding grudge with successful arch-rival Ace Montana. Before you can say "Ace Montana?" the adult Phil (Greg Germann) has beaten you to the punch. "Ace Montana -- what kind of a name is that?" he wonders aloud. Immediately, Phil provides us the answer: "I'll tell you what kind of name it is -- it's the coolest name I've ever heard." Oh boy.

Best known for his supporting role on Ally McBeal, Germann is the whole show here, which might not be so bad if he played to his quirky strengths. Instead, he's stuck playing Tim Allen, more or less; an obsessive dad who spends too much time tinkering with power tools in an attempt to win the Pinewood Derby, a race between small toy cars on a short wooden track. It's supposed to be for kids only, with minor consultation from parents. Down and Derby's only joke is that the fathers get way more obsessed than their sons, shutting the boys out altogether in an attempt to settle old scores with other dads. Lauren "I Divorced Jim Carrey for This?" Holly shows up periodically as Phil's wife, to comically cover her ears and complain about her hubby's insanity. How a guy who looks and acts like Germann ever ended up with a hottie like Holly is a mystery on par with how such previously successful actors ended up together in Down and Derby -- we must hope they got paid, for no other rewards are apparent.

Assisting Phil in his madness are diminutive cop "Big Jimmy" (Air Bud: Golden Receiver's Phil Anzilotti) and Trey Parker look-alike Blaine (Ross Brockley). In the closest thing this movie offers to dramatic tension, they break into Ace's house and...accidentally make his toilet overflow. With clean water, apparently. All of us with plumbing mishaps should be so lucky.

Writer-director Eric Hendershot has made a career, such as it is, of under-the-radar family films starring either has-beens or unknowns (Joe Piscopo is one of his "bigger" names, and Mormon movie regular Scott Christopher appears here and in previous flicks), and if it pays the bills, more power to him. Certainly, Down and Derby is inoffensive, and it isn't cloyingly sentimental; uptight religious fanatics like the Childcare Action Project's Reverend Thomas Carder should have little problem with it, and secular parents will find no obvious cause for alarm...unless, that is, they're trying to impart artistic standards to their kids, in which case, this doesn't pass muster. Your children can certainly do better than watching it, even if it's free (and it ain't yet, but give it a week to vanish utterly from theaters).

The poster boasts an appearance by Pat Morita, who, if he's this desperate for work, should really start calling his former Next Karate Kid co-star Hilary Swank for a favor. In toto, he gets maybe three lines of dialogue, playing a Japanese businessman whose appearance has something to do with Phil's never-specified day job. It's the closest Hendershot ever gets to a subplot, but when it culminates with cell phones being taped to toy cars and made to resemble rodents, you have to wonder why anyone bothered. It sounds more interesting than it is, which is not saying much.

So yeah, it's all every bit as lame as it looks. Big shock there.

 
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