You could almost call "Snake and Mongoo$e" a poor man's "Rush," after the terrific Ron Howard biopic that focused on the 1970's rivalry between Formula 1 world champions James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Except that "the serpent and the rodent" aims its sights at a much different world of motorsports: the mostly American phenomenon of professional drag racing, in this instance as personified by the sport's legendary Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and his friend and rival Tom "The Mongoo$e" McEwen. And it's a fascinating look at a pair of guys whose rivalry on and off track never really ended (before the movie ends, anyway), even though they had been friends and business partners for many years.
Like "Rush," "S and M" starts at the beginning of the Prudhomme/McEwen rivalry, when two very young and different individuals were brought together by their mutual love of the sport. And while there are many similarities to Rush - two driven but very different men pursuing the same basic goal - Snake and Mongoo$e the movie and Snake and Mongoo$e the people are very different from Howard's subjects. The two movies would go very well together on the video shelves of race fans.
Snake and Mongoo$e uses quite a bit of vintage footage to get the real racing experience without having to spend millions recreating it on set and digitally. That's one of the "poor man's Rush" aspects of this film, but it actually works quite well. Sure, the vintage footage sticks out like a sore thumb compared with the modern day film (or digital recording, which often happens these days), but it also shows that no matter what artistic license the filmmakers may have taken, it's all rooted in fact.
Also helping to root the film in fact, undoubtedly, is the presence of the real Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen as executive producers. And if you watch the "making of" feature that's also on this disc, you'll see they appear pretty pleased with the film's historical accuracy. It's a bit surprising, because not everything revealed about these guys in the film is stuff I'd necessarily want publicized if it had happened to me.
But I'll try to include no spoilers here!
Snake and Mongoo$e is also obviously meant to be taken seriously by the enthusiast community, which is undoubtedly why the film was screened at the 2014 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale this past January. It was apparently the first film ever screened in that event's more than four decades of existence.
If one were drawing analogies to Rush, Prudhomme (Jesse Williams) would be Niki Lauda, the methodical loner-type (even though he was married) who wants things done his way. That leaves McEwen (Richard Blake) as the James Hunt character, the more flamboyant driver who in this case is also entrepreneurial and, in fact, is the driving force behind the partnership Snake and Mongoo$e enter into to build their brand and their careers.
They're not really like their F1/Rush counterparts, of course. McEwen is also a family man, while Prudhomme doesn't want to get tied down with kids who could get in the way of his racing career. Things change over the course of the movie as both characters grow, though again, they grow in kind of different directions.
The film follows the duo's careers from basically being wannabes to the biggest and baddest drag racers in the United States of America. We get to see the strategies behind their marriages of corporate convenience with such sponsors as Mattel toys, whose Hot Wheels franchise was a perfect match for the showy drag racers. Noah Wyle, one of the few actors in this film that I'd actually ever heard of, does a nice job portraying the head of Mattel.
Ashley Hinshaw and Kim Shaw play the racers' wives, and do a very nice job as well. It's a good cast in all, bereft of big names, but that only adds to the sense of realism because you won't spend the film's 102 minute running time trying to get past a famous pretty face so you can concentrate on the characterizations and the story. It doesn't hurt that both of the lead actors have a physical resemblance to their real life counterparts.
Perhaps the best thing about Snake and Mongoo$e for mainstream viewers is that it isn't just a movie for race fans. Race fans will undoubtedly enjoy it - I know I did - but the human drama that unfolds is plenty interesting enough for people to don't care a whit about racing.
There's also a decent soundtrack, which includes some notable artists and tunes of the time, including ZZ Top's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" and the old chestnut of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't fear the reaper." The production has done a nice job of capturing the era that unfolds here - the sixties and seventies - through music, sets and costumes.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p/24, of course, with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. The look is great, with a nice and clean image that - other than the vintage footage mentioned earlier - nearly pops off the screen. Colors are bright and saturated nicely, and the black levels are nice and deep.
Race fans will enjoy the lossless audio for how great the race cars' awesome sounds come through. The racing scenes will definitely give your home theater audio system a nice workout. Yet despite that, dialogue comes through cleanly.
There's only one special feature: "Snake & Mongoo$e: behind the movie" and it's a pretty standard "making of" feature. Don't let that turn you off, however; it's still worth watching if you want to learn more about the movie and its subjects. And as mentioned, the real life Prudhomme and McEwen are on hand as well.
Snake and Mongoo$e is a movie many people might miss because it wasn't a huge and hugely hyped film that set Hollywood abuzz. But director Wayne Holloway has crafted a very good movie here, one that's not only interesting - and a must see for race fans - but one whose drama isn't just a whitewash of history but rather shows these larger than life personas as real human beings, with flaws and foibles.
It's worth seeing.
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray