As the teen demographic has managed to dictate the marketing and content of films for so many years, it's easy to see why a filmmaker would be compelled to tell his or her story with the added benefit of focusing a film's subject matter solely on such a demanding and consumptive cross section of the population. Additionally, when one considers the fact that 'The Fast and The Furious' franchise has managed to rake in a sum of money equivalent to the gross domestic product of a small nation, then the presumed formula for success that likely drove director Alex Ranarivelo and co-writer Steve Sarno to craft the teen action flick 'Born 2 Race' becomes readily apparent.
What is most noticeable about 'Born 2 Race,' however, is the fact that the filmmakers (wisely?) chose not to cast the leads in their film about teen gearheads and racing fanatics with actual teens. Instead, Ranarivelo and his producers went the 'Grease' or '90210' route and cast a bunch of older actors (some in their mid-twenties) to portray 17-year-olds. There's nothing wrong with this method of casting, as one can certainly see the benefits of having more seasoned actors handling the film's dramatic elements. The downside, however, is that the film's main characters, Danny Krueger, played by Joseph Cross ('Milk') and his nemesis, Jake Kendall (Brando Eaton) look as if each had been asked to repeat a grade or three.
Age skepticism aside, 'Born 2 Race' concerns high school racer Danny Krueger, as he is sent from the apparent street racing capital of the world, Los Angeles, to the small town of Bradford, California after an illegal race leaves him without a sponsor and in hot water with the police. As presented in the film, Bradford is unique in many ways: 1) it is the home of Danny's semi-estranged, former NASCAR-driving father, Frank (John Pyper-Ferguson), and 2) for its small size, Bradford is densely populated with gearheads and racing enthusiasts to the point that drag races are a part of the high school curriculum and unsanctioned races happen in broad daylight. If anything, 'Born 2 Race' paints Bradford as a living hell for pedestrians and fans of public transportation.
Once there, Danny's former street-racing status propels him into the realm of adoration and scorn from his fellow classmates. On one hand, two geek gearheads (if there is such a thing) take an immediate shine to the new kid in town, while the school's resident alpha male (Jake) doesn't take too kindly to someone capable of testing his driving skills or his car's phenomenal power. To make matters worse, Danny is immediately taken by Jake's ex, Jessica (Nicole Badaan), and the two begin a tepid romance that is as convincing as the possibility of a town so into cars and racing it may as well have been co-opted by Pep Boys.
The entirely humorless script plays Danny's petulance so seriously that any chance the character has of endearing himself to the audience is restricted solely to those who would like a chance behind the wheel of his souped-up Subaru. And, naturally, that petulance is the main conflict presented in the film, as Danny is tasked with rekindling the fractured relationship with the man who drunkenly abandoned his wife and child seven years prior. During that time, Frank has managed to start a struggling, but well-respected auto repair shop and sober up enough to realize what's most important now is helping create a positive future for his kid. Frank and Danny, being rather laconic, loner types, are none too adept at sharing their feelings, so the relationship has to go through that kind of obligatory arc. What follows is a well meaning, but ultimately derivative story that smacks of 'The Karate Kid' and every other sports-themed teenage triumph film that's graced audiences since then. Danny balances his need for speed with a burgeoning romance and the decision of whether or not to forgive and learn from his father in character arcs so familiar, audiences will be able to predict the story beats well in advance.
Surprisingly, despite the imitative aspects of the film's storyline, its three main leads of Cross, Eaton and Pyper-Ferguson handle 'Born 2 Race' competently. The film certainly would have benefited from allowing Cross to occasionally drop his dour demeanor in exchange for something more akin to how a teen might act when he is given nearly unrestricted access to cars with tens of thousands of dollars worth of after-market parts packed into them, but instead the script asks that Cross do little more than maintain a cranky face and grip the steering wheel with white knuckled enthusiasm. Eaton, for his part, excels in embodying the bad-boy-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder-and-the-ego-to-match type. Like Cross' Krueger, there's no real depth to the character of Jake Kendall, but Eaton plays him with the kind of slimy bravado that serves to enhanced the appeal of the film's protagonist – boring though he may be. The real standout, however, is John Pyper-Ferguson, who takes such joy in his performance, one wishes the entire film could have been centered on Frank Krueger and his coulda-been-a-contender hard luck story.
'Born 2 Race' certainly has the benefit of a target audience that is strong and passionate about such material. Since there are precious few movies that truly evoke the spirit of street racing and a love of cars (without mixing in ludicrous heist plots), this film and its jargon-heavy script will probably be a standout amongst those in search of a little entertainment that truly attempts to connect with such a specific audience.
Presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec, 'Born 2 Race' exhibits film quality that is mostly on par with an early 'CSI' episode. Apparently shot on digital, what appears on screen exhibits almost no filmic qualities whatsoever; meaning, there is not a trace of grain anywhere on the picture, but the image still comes across as a flat, unimpressive example of what can sometimes be the result of a poor transfer.
Fine detail is rarely present, though it does show up occasionally in close-up. Even then, images lack the kind of clarity one expects in a quality high definition transfer. Low light images suffer even more, as the already soft and muted detail of the picture is nearly swallowed whole during scenes at night or in darkened environments. As with most films shot in this manner, white balance is also an issue. Exterior scenes appear blown out, with white levels exceedingly high, resulting in a flat picture, even in well-lit locations where HD typically shines.
Ultimately, 'Born 2 Race' is saddled with a dull, lifeless picture where colors refuse to pop and contrast levels remain low throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on 'Born 2 Race' presents the film's major selling point in impressive fashion. Let's face it; one thing car people love is the roar of a powerful engine. (Why else would they gather in parking lots with their hoods up?) The 5.1 mix brings the cars to life – whether it's accurate or not is another question entirely, but if the sound of several hundred brake horsepower, or a turbo being engaged gets you going, the sound here likely won't let you down.
Surround effects come through clearly as well. Racing scenes are dynamic, with sound effects spilling from every channel, while imaging accurately conveys the positioning of the competing cars. Rear channels get a decent workout during these scenes, though with the constantly shifting camera angles and lightning fast editing going on, the sound does tend to jump a bit. It's noticeable, but mostly innocuous.
Despite the heavy emphasis on sound effects of the inanimate variety, dialogue still comes through with decent clarity – even over the bellow of a souped-up Ford Mustang. It's not a perfect audio track, but in its effort to highlight the film's main selling point, the DTS audio certainly does not come up short.
Though there is some question as to how much enjoyment is possible from a film where shots of feet pressing on gas pedals and clutches being engaged enjoy as much screen time as the lead actors, 'Born 2 Race' will undoubtedly have a niche market ready to enjoy its nitrous-fed excess again and again. Like a romantic comedy or stoner flick, car movies are geared (no pun intended) to a certain audience, and while it likely won't wind most watches, 'Born 2 Race' will probably find a home amongst car enthusiasts and tech students across the country. While the Blu-ray here is mostly sub-standard, its doubtful that will have too adverse an effect on those intent on ogling the cam shaft-y goodness of the modified street racers on display here.