Eric Bana loves his car, moviegoers won't

Mon Mar 30, 2009 1:35am EDT
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By Megan Lehmann

SYDNEY (Hollywood Reporter) - Eric Bana's directorial debut "Love the Beast," documenting a quarter-century love affair with his 1974 Ford Falcon coupe, could easily be dismissed as a vanity project. Except that the immensely likable Australian actor seems incapable of conceit.

He sincerely believes this story must be told, that his quasi-religious fervor for his beloved machine will, if not exactly convert non-revheads, at least help them understand how such an emotional bond can exist. So the Hollywood star and motor racing enthusiast takes us on a meandering journey through his shared history with the car, dotted with barely relevant detours and are-we-there-yet moments.

"Beast" became the third-highest-grossing Aussie documentary upon its domestic release, perhaps because of the country's affection for its affable native son. But a few laps of the festival circuit, following its international premiere at New York's Tribeca Film Festival next month, probably will see it run out of gas before it hits offshore theaters.

We're introduced to the Beast of the title via some grainy footage that highlights the car culture of the 1970s, before muscle cars and V8 engines became anathema to an emissions-conscious planet.

The Bana family garage was a clubhouse, with a 15-year-old Eric and his three closest mates gathered around the "campfire" that was his beaten-up, second-hand Ford.

The dramatic arc of the film, such as it is, follows Bana's decision to regroup with his lifelong friends and restore the car to enter it in 2007's Targa Tasmania Rally, a taxing five-day motor race that, for Bana, ends in disaster.

Along the way we hear from fellow car nut Jay Leno; Britain's "Top Gear" host Jeremy Clarkson; and, perhaps most marginally, Dr. Phil, who indulges a rapt Bana with a bit of therapy about his attachment to the Beast.

Bana's easygoing manner and a lingering sense of nostalgia build a mellow mood overall, while shrewd editing by Conor O'Neill and a rocking Aussie soundtrack pump up the volume on the race sequences.

(Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters)

<p>Australian actor Eric Bana poses for photographers during a telecommunications promotional event in Sydney July 19, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne</p>