Snake & Mongoo$e: Film Review

Hot-rod fans will race to this sports bio-drama drenched in period authenticity.

Wayne Holloway's sports-themed bio-drama concerns the famed rivalry between legendary drag racers Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "The Mongoo$e" McEwen.

The legendary -- at least in drag-racing circles -- rivalry between racers Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme is the subject of Snake & Mongoo$e, Wayne Holloway’s sports-themed film that should certainly appeal to, say, subscribers of Road & Track magazine. Featuring a plethora of archival footage from their races in the '60s and '70s, the bio-drama captures its milieu with an admirable accuracy and authenticity, even if its storyline proves underwhelming. The film, being released in New York, Los Angeles and select cities across the country, should find receptive audiences in regional markets.

The titular duo, played by Jesse Williams and Richard Blake, were longtime friends who drummed up their rivalry primarily for publicity purposes. While Prudhomme was the superior driver, McEwen proved himself a master of the commercial aspects of the sport. His biggest brainstorm was to entice Mattel to sponsor the duo as a way of promoting the company's hugely successful Hot Wheels toy car line. Their nicknames, inspired by characters in The Jungle Book, only added to their appeal.

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Other than that less-than-earthshaking plot element, the film concentrates on the racers’ personal stories, such as McEwen’s troubled marriage to a wife who resents his attention to his career at the expense of their children, his 13-year-old son being diagnosed with leukemia and Prudhomme’s endless womanizing.

Racing fans will certainly appreciate the film's attention to detail, which includes the incorporation of grainy real-life racing footage (a decision probably necessitated by budget constraints, but effective nonetheless) and media coverage, including the covers of hot-rod magazines from the era; many restored vintage racing cars as well as exact replicas; and superb costume and production design that re-create the time period in all its sartorial and decorative tackiness.

The two leads deliver strong performances that well capture their real-life characters' conflicting personalities, while a gallery of familiar faces including Fred Dryer, John Heard, Ian Ziering and Noah Wyle, the latter as Mattel executive Arthur Spear, are impressive in supporting roles. Tim Blake Nelson, sporting a moustache that looks like a beaver has settled in under his nose, is particularly amusing as an effusive sportscaster.   

Opens Sept. 6 (Rocky Mountain Pictures)

Production: Entertainment Universe, Rhino Films, The National Hot Rod Association

Cast: Jesse Williams, Richard Blake, Ashley Hinshaw, Kim Shaw, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Fred Dryer, John Heard, Julie Mond, Leonardo Nam, Ian Ziering, Tim Blake Nelson, Noah Wyle

Director: Wayne Holloway

Screenwriters: Alan Paradise, Wayne Holloway

Producers: Robin Broidy, Stephen Nemeth

Executive producers: Elliott Broidy, Alan Paradise, Gunter Schaldach, Jesse Williams

Director of photography: John Bailey

Editors: Richard Halsey, Nicholas Wayman-Harris

Production designer: John Mott

Costume designer: Inanna Bantu

Composer: Gary Barlough

Rated PG-13, 101 min.