Kevin McGahern's Fast and Furious - 'Funny, bright and entertaining, if hardly entirely persuasive'
RTE2’S Reality Bites strand seems to be on a mission lately to rehabilitate the images of some of society’s least popular people.
A couple of weeks back we had Martin Daneels’ fine film about sulky racers, which exploded a few well-worn myths and explored unexpected depths when one of the racers, who up to then had come across as a chatty extrovert, talked with quiet emotion about how his beloved horse had taken him out of a place of personal darkness and pretty much saved him from a life of oblivion.
It was a genuinely moving moment in a documentary a lot of people would probably have written off without bothering to watch first.
Kevin McGahern’s Fast and Furious follows more or less the same template, although this time, the tone is considerably lighter and the topic isn’t horses but horsepower.
Away from the puerile environs of The Republic of Telly, which he hosts, McGahern proves to be a shrewd and engaging guide through the petrol-soaked world of what most of us would call boy racers, although they prefer to be known as “modified car enthusiasts”.
I was about to write “the murky world of”, except it’s not murky at all. Anyone who drives, as I do, along a rural national primary road (in this case, the stretch of the N11 into Enniscorthy) every morning will recognise those circular tyre marks as a tell-tale sign that the boy — sorry, the modified car enthusiasts — were out to play the night before, spinning doughnuts in the middle of the road. They call it “diffing”.
It might come as a surprise to learn that the devoted petrolheads — the ones who spend anything from hundreds to thousands of euro lovingly souping up and customising gleaming motors that will be taken out only for racing purposes and then returned to the box-like rare Dinky toys — hate the rogue element that conducts highly illegal and highly dangerous diffing on public roads every bit as much as the rest of us.
They’re the ones, and there’s only a small minority of them, they claim, that get serious customised car enthusiasts an undeserved bad rep.
You might be even more surprised to learn that there’s a strong female contingent, ready to prove that whatever the men can do, they can do just as well, if not even better.
It gives lie to the popular notion that petrolheads all suffer from chronic penile dementia, whereby the gear stick and the willy are interchangeable symbols of macho maleness.
McGahern attends a meet held in Letterkenny, on the fringes of the Donegal International Rally. This is a totally legal, above-board event, taking place on a private piece of land (the enthusiasts call it a “slab”), well away from public roads.
The gardai have been informed and, while keeping an eye on things to make sure the event doesn’t get out of hand and nobody is driving under the influence of drink or drugs, are happy to police it lightly and let the drivers do their thing in a safe environment.
“Everybody’s well-behaved, nobody is on drink or anything like that,” says Aidan, something of a veteran at arranging and stewarding such events, who likens what he does to “herding cows”.
Occasionally, though, the odd cow will start acting the bullocks and ruin it for everyone else. At a later meet — again, a legal one — in Cavan, the man who owns the land where it’s being held gets cold feet when 300 cars turn up to compete and shuts it down at the last minute.
The racers, some of who have travelled the length of the country to be there, are disappointed but peaceable, at least until one idiot decides to do some unauthorised diffing and draws the gardai like bees to a honeypot.
McGahern meets Conor, an enthusiast who has turned his passion into a business, customising cars to order and frequently letting the drivers use his yard for diffing practise. “Not everybody into modified cars is a boy racer,” he says. “It’s very easy to tar them under the same name.” Like most of the people featured, Conor would like to see the enthusiasts being provided with a slab of their own to pursue their passion in safety.
Unfortunately, sincere as everyone sounds, there’s a point late in the film when the unbroken white line between right and wrong blurs.
McGahern is reunited in Cavan with a chap called Ian, who he’d met earlier at one of the legal meets. Ian, a lifelong enthusiast whose father bought him his first car when he was just nine, takes him to an illegal night-time race in somewhere called “the dump”, which turns out to be the junction of a main public road.
“The whole thing has a Fight Club feel to it,” says McGahern, who can’t quite disguise the anxiety in his voice as the cars roar, spin and skid dangerously around.
Fast and Furious is bright and entertaining, if hardly entirely persuasive. Funny, too. Everyone keeps boasting about twin-cams, but when McGahern asks two lads what a twin-cam actually is, he’s met with embarrassed bafflement.