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Get your motor runnin’ and head out on the highway as Bruce Brown’s seminal 1971 motorcycle docu gets a worthy 21st-century update.
Motorcycles of all shapes, sizes and velocities speed around the track — and, quite often, through the air — in “On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter,” director Dana Brown’s effusive valentine to two-wheeled motorized transport in all its incarnations. Taking his father Bruce Brown’s seminal 1971 motorcycle docu “On Any Sunday” as a model, the younger Brown canvases the globe from Vancouver to Vietnam as he explores motorcycling as sport, hobby, practical necessity and even a means of artistic expression. The result is, much like Brown’s superb 2003 surf docu “Step Into Liquid,” an intoxicating blend of exotic travelogue, death-defying derring-do, and affecting profiles in courage and perseverance. Brown’s pic should delight gearheads and grease monkeys of all stripes in its targeted theatrical run (on 250 screens nationwide), with a long home-viewing shelf life to come.
One of the very few sports-themed docus to earn a feature documentary Oscar nomination, the original “On Any Sunday” looked in on a wide range of amateur and professional trail riders, desert racers and motocross junkies (including the era’s leading exponent of American macho cool, Steve McQueen), all set to the mellow drone of Brown’s wry, pun-heavy narration (like a surfer-dude Yogi Berra). It was, above all, a wonderfully democratic portrait of motorcycling as an extended family, in which a Steve McQueen was no more or less important than some unknown tyke skidding up and down mounds of dirt just for the fun of it.
The younger Brown (who previously explored the need for speed in his 2005 “Dust to Glory,” about the Baja 1000 off-road race) is nothing if not a chip off the old block, right down to his own self-effacing voiceover work. And if “On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter” is largely a study in how much motorcycle technology and riding styles have evolved in the last 40 years, it also reflects those same decades of progress in the art of motion-picture making. Where Bruce Brown was a veritable one-man band, shooting his films in 16mm and with post-synchronized sound, this new “On Any Sunday” is as high-tech as any Hollywood blockbuster, with startlingly crisp HD imagery (by d.p. Alex Fostvedt) shot from a battery of stationary, mobile and aerial cameras, and a sound mix (designed for the new Dolby Atmos sound system) that’s like being at a rock concert given by Penzoil.
Bigger isn’t always better, but Brown has managed to enlarge his father’s canvas without compromising its fundamentally human-scale appeal. Employing a loose, episodic framework, he strings together a series of wonderfully entertaining portraits, of Australian-born freestle motocross champ Robbie Maddison (a kind of latter-day Evel Knievel whose accomplishments including jumping his bike the length of a football field and riding it off the replica Arch de Triomphe in Las Vegas), of the “Rush”-like rivalry between rising MotoGP racers Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa (whose cutting-edge bikes are like real-life versions of “Tron’s” light cycles), and of Derrick Simuunza, a Zambian village doctor whose motorcycle allows him to service some 300 patients per day.
Injury and disability do little to deter those who feel born to ride. Early on, Maddison jokes that his family was fortunate to live on a street called Hospital Rd., so named for its proximity to the local ER. Elsewhere, Brown introduces us to 24-year-old Ashley Fiolek, a women’s motocross rider who has excelled in the sport despite having been born deaf. And we catch up with one of the stars of the original “On Any Sunday,” former American Motorcyclist Association Grand National champion Mert Lawwill, now a developer of prosthetic limb technology that makes it possible for amputees to ride. In what may be the film’s most moving episode, Brown follows X Games gold medalist Travis Pastrana as he pays a visit to his boyhood idol, motocross legend Doug Henry, paralyzed from the waist down in a 2007 accident, but still happily riding thanks to a custom-built harness that resembles a mad garage inventor’s prize achievement.
Fittingly for a father-son filmmaking team, “On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter” returns time and again to parents who have passed the love of motorcycling on to their children, like bike mechanic Trevor Dunne and his son Carlin, seen, in one of the docu’s most humorous episodes, competing for the land speed record at Utah’s shimmering Bonneville Salt Flats. Brown even opens the film with disarming home-movie footage of a young girl climbing on to a child’s motorcycle and quickly speeding off into the grass as her alarmed videographer dad gives chase. And if Brown’s movie holds any larger message in store, it’s the gentle but persistent advocacy of the open road and the great outdoors in an era when the rise of video games and overly protective “helicopter” parenting has curtailed the adventurousness of many childhoods.
Like McQueen in the original “Sunday,” assorted celebrity riders and enthusiasts (including Mickey Rourke, Scott Caan and Bo Derek) make fleeting appearances here, but are afforded no special treatment. Music plays a key role, too, in the form of composer Dave Palmer’s extensive but never obtrusive original score an an energetic, 24-cut soundtrack that runs the gamut from Queens of the Stone Age to Arlo Guthrie’s immortal ditty “Motorcycle Song,” plus an end-credits reprise of the 1971 film’s catchy Dominic Frontiere-Sally Stevens title track.