Judge Gordon Sullivan writes at 5000 RPM.
Fast friends. Arch rivals.
I've always been amazed that NASCAR seems to have the lock on televised racing. Sure there are other kinds out there, but for whatever reason a bunch of guys going in circles consistently makes money from fans in person and on TV. Whether you like NASCAR or not, it would seem drag racing would make a much more televisual spectacle—faster times, more races in the same hour(s), and (in some cases) crazier cars. I'm sure there are reasons, but in general drag racing plays second fiddle to NASCAR. Snake and Mongoose hopes to turn the tide a bit, offering a tale of racing rivalry that helped revolutionize the sport. Fans of the funny cars might enjoy this trip down memory lane, but it won't have much dramatic impact for those who don't care about the sport.
Don "The Snake" Prudhomme (Jesse Williams, The Cabin in the Woods) and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen (Richard Blake, Dragonball: Evolution) are drag race competitors. Though both are passionate about the sport and good at what they do, it's a struggle to make a life out of racing. One day, the two men get the idea that the best way to make money with racing is to obtain corporate sponsorships, so they approach Mattel. A deal is struck and the pair walk into the history books as the guys who changed the face of drag racing forever.
If this is the greatest rivalry that drag racing has to offer, it's little wonder the sport isn't on every TV in America. Which is not a diss on the sport, but viewers have to recognize two key factors in the background of Snake and Mongoose.
First, there isn't much of a rivalry between these two guys. Sure, they had high-profile matches against one another, but as Snake and Mongoose makes clear, they helped each other out more than they competed. This isn't a case of good-guy vs. bad-guy racing, where the flashy villain gets his comeuppance from the hardworking youngster. It's historically clear that Prudhomme is the more decorated driver, with McEwan the more commercially savvy of the two. Unlike traditional sports rivalries, Snake and Mongoose are just guys who love racing and want to make a living doing what they love.
Second, and more importantly, these guys revolutionized the sport with corporate sponsorship years before it took over NASCAR. Drag racing is part driver reaction, part big engine. Coffee might fuel reaction times, but dollars fuel bigger and better cars. Snake and Mongoose decided they weren't going to pay for their engines, but strike a deal with Mattel that would pay for the upgrades through Hot Wheels merchandising. For two years, it was a win-win for both parties, and the extra cash allowed Snake and Mongoose to have the best cars, the best help, and some of the best races of their careers.
Notice I said "both" a lot in that last paragraph. That's because Snake and Mongoose, whatever their rivalries may have been on the track, were partners when not behind the wheel. Wonderful for them, but bad for Snake and Mongoose. The film lacks the traditional bitter rivalry to fuel a narrative leading up to the big race. It's not a rags-to-riches story, as both were successful before and after their marketing triumph. It's also not a downfall story, as neither man succumbs to dissolution as a result of their riches. Ultimately, Snake and Mongoose plays out like a fictionalized Biography Chanel documentary on the pair; the facts are presented, the races shown, but no real drama ever develops.
It's not a complete lost cause, though. Snake and Mongoose boasts an excellent cast, inhabiting those '70s clothes with aplomb. Smaller roles are filled out with veterans like John Heard (Home Alone), Noah Wyle (E.R.), and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). More importantly, Snake and Mongoose gets the race footage right, relying on clips from actual races in sanctioned matches, rather than trying to recreate anything on a small budget.
Anchor Bay gives the film a decent Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer offers fine detail and the '70s color scheme is appropriately saturated, while lacking the budget to be a true visual feast. The TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is full of the throaty roar of engines, but dialogue remains clear and well-balanced throughout. The disc's lone extra is a short making-of featurette.
Fans of drag racing will appreciate this take on the history of the sport. Lacking the tense drama most sports films rely on, Snake and Mongoose has enough decent performances and drag-racing footage to keep fans happy. Worth a rental for racing fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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