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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Race The Sun (1996)

"A sketch is one thing. But we're talking about building a car from the ground up."
- Sandra Beecher (Halle Berry)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: April 29, 2002

Stars: Halle Berry, James Belushi
Other Stars: Casey Affleck, Eliza Dushku, Kevin Tighe, Anthony Ruivivar, Steve Zahn, J. Moki Cho, Nadja Pionilla, Adriane Napualani Uganiza, Sara Tanaka
Director: Charles T. Kanganis

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language and a brief incident of teen drinking)
Run Time: 01h:39m:38s
Release Date: April 30, 2002
UPC: 043396077553
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-B-B- D

DVD Review

Race The Sun is one of those motivational underdog movies. If those type of films raise the hairs on the back of your neck, then you will probably want to steer clear of this one. Loosely based on real-life events, the story entails a group of ragtag high school kids (is there any other kind?) from Hawaii who defy the odds and enter a world-class, solar-powered car race in Australia. This is the type of plot that seems familiar before it even begins, and its message of inspiration and self-confidence generally follows well-worn paths.

Recently divorced Sandra Beecher (Halle Berry) has accepted a teaching position in the science department of a somewhat disheveled Hawaiian high school. She is all but told by her fellow teachers, including auto shop instructor Frank (James Belushi), that the kids are notorious quitters, and will probably never amount to anything more than $5-an-hour jobs "cleaning up after tourists." Her students are a rowdy lot, and of course feature an easily identifiable mixture of stock characters (the tough guy, the fat guy, the bitchy girl, the nerdy girl, the class clown, the surfer, etc). When Beecher tries to motivate her class by taking them to the local science fair finals, the students are drawn to a solar-powered car designed by the preppy brats at Sutcliff Academy.

A handful of the most colorful students band together to build their own solar-powered car, determined to win a local competition that will ensure their entry in the World Solar Challenge held in Australia, a grueling six-day, 2000 mile contest. The students, led by surfboard designer Daniel (Casey Affleck), rally together, sometimes butting heads, to design and build a vehicle. Not surprisingly, Beecher convinces crusty auto shop teacher Frank to pitch and help out, too.

Director Charles T. Kanganis is working in territory we've all seen before, whether it be Rocky, The Karate Kid, The Bad News Bears, or countless other similarly themed films. There are the requisite montages of teamwork, set to snippets of pop music, to say nothing of the sheer familiarity of the whole premise. Even with those obstacles, Kanganis does manage to make a solar-powered car race moderately engaging and entertaining, and the screenplay deftly avoids the predictable turn of events that my daughter Sammy and I had expected. This is not ground-breaking cinema by any means, but it is a decently constructed bit of inspirational storytelling.

The performances by Berry and Belushi, despite their top billing, take backseat to the students which, aside from Affleck, most notably features pre-Buffy The Vampire Slayer babe Eliza Dushku as Cindy. The rest of the team is layered with a quirky group of relative unknowns, with J. Moki Cho as the hulking gentle giant Gilbert easily the most memorable. Former Emergency star Kevin Tighe appears as an evil corporate sponsor, and funny guy Steve Zahn has a small role as Hans, the Teutonic driver of the world-champion Euro team.

There are a few surprises here, but for the most part Race The Sun plays along party lines. It boasts a performance by an Oscar® winner (Berry), and features a strong, positive message. If you're bored, you can always count the numerous Coca-Cola product placements.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 full-frame transfer is pleasant, offering up generally bright and accurate colors, with respectable black levels. Image detail is not razor sharp by any means, but it's perfectly suited to the material. I caught a few blemishes, in the form of visible nicks, most significant in the third act, but for the most part the transfer was fairly clean.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has issued Race The Sun with a single audio track in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The film uses a lot of scene-appropriate pop music (Men At Work, Rusted Root) that comes across cleanly, with a respectable amount of richness and bottom end that is lacking in most of the dialogue sequences. There were only a few moments when the rear channels came to life, most prominently during the big dust storm scene, where the swirling sand briefly gave the overall soundfield some depth. Other than that, the front speakers carry the bulk of the action, with moderate imaging generally coming from vehicles moving across screen.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Karate Kid
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from Columbia TriStar's usual generous multi-language subtitles, the only extras are two trailers (Race The Sun, The Karate Kid) and 28 chapters.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

It's hard for me to find fault with one of these Rocky-like tales, even though it ultimately offers nothing radically new. The whole "follow your dreams" message, while certainly not anything unique, is presented nicely here, with the bare minimum of blatant manipulation. The cast is likeable, and the Barry Morrow screenplay is peppered with enough mild language to prevent the experience from becoming too sugary.

This would be a worthwhile family night rental.


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