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Movie Review

Fast cars. Fierce rivalries. Industrial espionage. You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm talking about The Fast and the Furious 3. But the tricked out cars in Down and Derby aren't made of steel. They're small blocks of wood. And the racers aren't gangbangers or murderous thieves. They're Boy Scouts. More precisely, they're the Boy Scouts' dads.

Meet four über-obsessed patriarchs who haven't matured a day since they were nine. Phil Davis. Ace Montana. Big Jimmy. Blaine Moosman. Spirited double-dog dares and "My dad can beat up your dad" insults have morphed into civic competitiveness and "My kid is better than your kid" aggressiveness. Phil in particular can't get over the fact that Ace has been the neighborhood hot shot for 25 years. He's determined to put an end to Ace's reign, even if he has to have his son do it for him.

And that brings us to the great Pinewood Derby. With so much at stake, none of the dads can bring themselves to let their boys actually make their own cars. (The rules state that they must.) That's a dad's job, they figure. And that fanatical desire to win almost costs these grown men everything they have. Marriages, careers and even dignity are put on the line in their quest for Derby glory.

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Positive Elements

At least at some level, the entire film works as a reverse instruction manual for life. When the dads ignore and belittle their kids, it's clear that they're doing the wrong thing. When Phil puts his career on hold, you know he's not supposed to do that. And when three of the men get so crazy with the desire to win that they break into a neighbor's house to steal his "perfect" car, there's no doubt that the filmmakers want moviegoers to figure out that that's not appropriate behavior.

[Spoiler Warning] When Phil's son, Brady, shows up at the Derby ready to race his own car (not the one Phil has spent 100 hours making), Phil has a choice to make. His wife, Kim, reminds him, "Sacrifice is when you give up something good for something better." Phil lets Brady race his own car, redeeming at least a portion of his maniacally self-centered behavior.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Big Jimmy's nickname for his wife is "Love Chunks," which he calls her twice. In one scene, he ogles her backside—clad in tight pants—as she sashays into the kitchen. Another scene has her wearing a nightie covered partially by a robe. As she talks to Big Jimmy, all we see is her ample cleavage; her face is never visible.

While hiding in a closet, Phil fights the temptation to watch Ace's wife, Teri, disrobe (we see her from the shoulders up). When Teri gets in the shower, Blaine (who is also hiding) sees her through a window. Not exercising the restraint that Phil shows, Blaine pops his head up for another eyeful (no nudity is shown onscreen).

All four wives frequently wear chest-hugging tops and short skirts.

Violent Content

Ace's son, A.J., knocks Brady to the floor in a basketball game. A Derby racer plunges off the practice track over the Davis' bed and conks Kim on the noggin. Blaine falls out of a tree trying to climb off the Montanas' roof, and he wears a neck brace for the rest of the film. A cheating Derby dad is forcibly escorted from the premises.

Crude or Profane Language

Phil says of Ace's moniker, "It's the coolest d--n name I've ever heard."

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

These guys' win-at-all-costs mindset prompts them to tell lots of lies to their wives. It also prompts them to break Derby rules, and while doing so, they demean their sons. Big Jimmy says to his boy, "Winning Pinewood Derby cars are made by dads—the big dogs. ... So what I need to know, little dog, is do you want to make your own car and take last place? Or do you want a big dog to make it and kick some butt?" Phil says to Brady, "Oh, we can build that car [Brady's], but when you win the Most Cautious Driver Award, don't come crying to me."

Each father grows increasingly annoyed with his son's pestering to help. So the dads hand out cash to shoo them away. Eventually, the distracted dads bequeath their ATM cards to the eager youngsters, who promptly withdraw hundreds of dollars.

Phil, Blaine and Big Jimmy sneak into Ace's house to steal his car and "reverse engineer" it, then attempt to return the car.

Big Jimmy uses the phrase "kick butt" repeatedly. Blaine loudly passes gas twice.

Conclusion

Down and Derby is yet another take on the timeworn comedic tradition of over-the-top competition and dysfunctional families. It's not meant to be taken seriously. It's just supposed to be a good, clean, family diversion. After all, the film wants us to ask, who hasn't seen Dad lose perspective on what's important, especially if winning some sort of race or game is at stake? Eventually, he always comes around and sees the errors in his ways.

Why then does Down and Derby seem determined to fall on its face before it reaches the goal? The most obvious example of this oxymoronic behavior is the completely unnecessary sexual innuendo it includes. The ogling of female backsides and breasts should be restricted to Austin Powers movies, not larks about Boy Scouts. "Love Chunks"? Come on, that's a degrading nickname for a wife—and it feels especially so in a so-called family movie.

An even bigger concern (because it takes up so much of the movie's running time) is how relentlessly dads are caricatured as immature, selfish and out-of-control. I know, it's just a comedy. It's obviously not real, and that makes it all too easy to brush aside problematic family dynamics. Still, I wish the Down and Derby men had realized how important their boys and wives really are sooner than they did. They behave badly throughout and suffer virtually no consequences. (There are lots of "almost" punishments, but in the end everything works out just fine.) Phil makes a positive choice at the conclusion, but it comes with only a few seconds remaining on the game clock, and it's muddied by the free pass he's given when it comes to the irresponsibility he shows regarding his career.

In the end, even veteran actor Pat Morita's cameo appearance wasn't enough to win me over. Instead, it only reminded me of much better films (and TV shows) in the genre.

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