A smooth ride in need of a little fuel injection

Tales of the Rat Fink

on October 13, 2006 by Kevin Courrier
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Director Ron Mann, a spiritual child of the ‘60s, has been blissfully immersing himself in the arcana of popular culture for more than 25 years by making genial social commentaries on a variety of subjects including jazz ( Imagine the Sound ), poetry ( Poetry in Motion ), comic-book culture ( Comic Book Confidential ) and rock-and-roll dancing ( Twist ). In Tales of the Rat Fink, he reverently depicts the life and work of hot-rod designer and graphic artist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a ‘50s rebel with a cause who broke free of American mass culture by trying to reshape it.

By connecting with the very totem of American culture -- the automobile -- Roth began customizing mass-produced cars into distinctly built speed machines. Before long, he lent his jazzy sensibility to designing T-shirts, model hot rods and movie monster kits. His cartoon character, the Rat Fink, was his stiff-finger salute to Disney's Mickey Mouse.

Although Tales of the Rat Fink is an entertaining trip through Roth's vibrantly demented imagination, the picture is a little too distanced from the subject himself. Despite very fine work by John Goodman, who fully embodies Roth while narrating Roth's remembrances, Mann doesn't let himself get swept up in the kinetic thrill of Big Daddy's inventiveness. Instead, he relies on cute devices such as having performers and fans (such as Brian Wilson, Jay Leno and Ann-Margaret) voice some of Roth's automobiles. Mann pulls back from immersing himself in that distinctly American desire of freely gunning it down the highway. All through the movie, his clever high jinks appear slightly more quaint than the subject he's depicting. He doesn't allow the mad scientist of Ed Roth to possess him.

Distributor: Abramorama
Voices: John Goodman, Ann-Margaret, Jay Leno, Matt Groening and Brian Wilson
Director/Producer: Ron Mann
Screenwriter: Solomon Vesta
Genre: Animated documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 76 min.
Release date: October 13

Tags: Voices, John Goodman, Ann-Margaret, Jay Leno, Matt Groening and Brian Wilson Director/Producer: Ron Mann Screenwriter: Solomon Vesta, Genre, Animated documentary, Abramorama
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