The Circuit (DVD)

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Here’s an interesting casting choice for you. In this made-for-TV movie, actress Michelle Trachtenberg plays a race car driver. Then again, in her career she’s played a spy, a nurse, an ice-skating mathematician, a valkyrie, and the key to the destruction of the universe. So why not?

Kylie Shines (Trachtenberg, EuroTrip) is an up-and-coming star on the amateur racing circuit, on the verge of going pro. Her estranged father Al (Bill Campbell, The 4400) is a former racing legend, now known more for his crashes than his past victories. She’s romancing hunky celebrity Kid Walker (Drew Fuller Army Wives) and is about to sign a lucrative deal with fast-talking race promoter Robin Cates (Paul Rae, Santa Buddies). Just as her future looks brighter than ever, Al reenters Kylie’s life, stirring feelings of competition in them both. Seeing a potential for huge ticket sales, Cates decides to arrange an event in which Kylie, Al, and Kid all compete in the same race, to determine who the biggest star truly is.

What we have here is a “perfect girl” movie. The main character succeeds at everything she tries and everyone loves her. It’s laughable how many times she’s shown walking around while carrying a trophy that’s taller than she is. She’s totally nonchalant about it, too, as if she’s thinking, “Yeah, yeah, another trophy too big to fit inside my house. Whatever.” This girl has more giant trophies than most girls have shoes. Furthermore, almost everyone in the movie absolutely loves Kylie. Everywhere she goes, she’s the center of attention and everyone adores her.

You might think that all this is good, in that it promotes a nice role model for the young girls watching. I won’t disagree, but I would argue that it isn’t the best for the story. Because Kylie is so good at everything and always succeeds, the outcome of both her races and her personal crises is never in doubt. Her character traits are all about her upbeat thinking and “never give up” attitude. I half expected her to let of the steering wheel and win the race by using her positive willpower.

Here’s a puzzler: Who is the villain in this story? Is it the dad, whom Kylie is angered at because he was never around when she was little? Seems that way at first, but all he really wants is to rekindle their relationship and start over. If the movie were about him, Kylie would be the villain, easily. Is it Cates, the slimy race promoter? You’d think that, but besides all his talk about profiting from the racers, he too is enamored with Kylie so that he’s not really out to hurt her. Is it Kid, who plays games with her heart after she falls for him? Possible, but because the movie is all about how great Kylie is, there’s no question that she’s a shining star with or without him.

The best parts of the movie are Kylie’s interaction with her new pit boss, ironically named “Crash” (Maurice Dean Wint, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). He’s the only person in the movie who actually confronts and challenges Kylie, even if it’s just to make her a better racer. The tension between them feels more genuine than it does with Kylie and the other characters, simply because he doesn’t think she walks (drives?) on water. Unfortunately, not a lot of screen time is devoted to this subplot. The other characters I liked were the race announcers, who delivered the exposition with gusto, and whose break-the-fourth-wall joke near the end was the best thing about the movie, which was both great and a little sad.

How’s the racing? It’s filmed in a straightforward manner, lacking the over-the-top pyrotechnics of Days of Thunder or Driven or even Cars. Still, the cars zip around the track at high speed, and the audience is never confused about who is and isn’t in the lead. As you’ve already surmised by now, this movie isn’t so much about racing as it about a perfect girl who happens to race.

The DVD is totally bare bones. Widescreen, a bland 5.1 track, and zilch nada on the extras.

The Verdict

There’s the white flag. Only one lap to go, and The Circuit pulls out into the lead. It speeds around turn two and…oh! It’s hit the wall! Now it has to be towed into the infield. What a disappointing finish.

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