Review by John Serba
Go Karts is an Australian movie originally titled Go!, but perhaps Netflix didn’t think it adequately covered the kart-heavy subject matter. It’s actually about people, not anthropomorphic vehicles like Cars, just to be clear. Anyway, there are go karts, and people race them, and one of them is an underdog, and one is the, um, overdog. Who will win? And will we care?
GO KARTS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The New Kid (William Lodder) and his Mom Whose Name Probably Should Be Grace (Frances O’Connor) arrive in Small Town, Australia in their vintage station wagon. They eyeball their new crappy old house, with eyeballs that don’t see an eyesore, but rather, a place that needs a little bit of paint, some new door hinges and a few less scorpions. They’re pretty upbeat, although New Kid has a Dead Dad who he sometimes sees in memory flashes — good memories, when Dead Dad was Alive Dad and taking New Kid out in the station wagon to do doughnuts. Mom Whose Name Probably Should Be Grace seems to have handled the loss of her husband with… something. Grace? Grace.
While Mom Whose Name Probably Should Be Grace sets up her new grocery market, Milk and Stuff — Milk and Stuff! — New Kid crashes a nearby party at a go kart track. He meets and befriends the Best Friend (Darius Amarfio Jefferson), and acquaints himself with key supporting characters in his new life: Grouchy Old Coot (Richard Roxburgh), a former racecar driver who runs the track and lives on-site in a grubby trailer. Sweep The Leg Johnny (Cooper van Grootel) is the local go kart champ who’s also an arrogant bully with a rich father who owns an auto racing team that’s also a go kart racing team. And then there’s The Girl (Anastasia Bampos), who’s Sweep The Leg Johnny’s sister, and knows lots of things about building karts, and wants to be involved with building karts, but is stuck sweeping up while the men in her family build the karts. Read: th3y treat her like shit.
At the party he wasn’t invited to, New Kid tears around the track in a go kart, and feels the need, the need for acceleration, momentum, and velocity. He’s never raced a go kart before, but he’s a natural, and talks Grouchy Old Coot into teaching him how to REALLY race so he can REALLY race in the upcoming competitive races. Grouchy Old Koot gives him inane tasks like washing the go karts with sponges on his feet, and moments after I said WAX-ON/WAX-OFF! to the screen, New Kid jokes that Grouchy Old Coot is Mr. Miyagi. Best Friend helps New Kid build a go kart, but The Girl REALLY knows how to build one, one that’s faster than Sweep The Leg Johnny’s go kart. Meanwhile, New Kid plots to help Doughnut Cop (Dan Wyllie) land a date with Mom Whose Name Probably Should Be Grace. Will New Kid defeat all the odds — all of them! — and go from nothing to nationals? Will there be montages? Will there be awkward teen romance with The Girl? SPOIL IT I MUST NOT.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Karate Kid and several hundred other underdog movies. But mostly The Karate Kid.
Performance Worth Watching: O’Connor’s performance as the Milk and Stuff proprietor is effortless, possibly because the character is barely written. The cast is fine. Don’t blame them for wanting a gig.
Memorable Dialogue: The Girl spouts what I presume is a local colloquialism: “If my dad finds out I helped a rival team, he’ll go off like a frog in a sock!”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Do these characters have actual names? Yes, but who knows why the filmmakers bothered, since they’re not characters, but collections of cliches in shirts, pants and, occasionally, racing helmets. This is a highly professional, slick production with a couple decent racing-action sequences that are dramatically ineffective since they exist to execute grossly predictable tropes about how bullies are assholes, how girls can do things too, and how kids can be inspired by their dead parent to achieve things, i.e., beating highly experienced go kart racers in a go kart race despite having learned the intricacies of go kart racing in only two montages. New Kid is just gifted, I guess — or maybe if his dad hadn’t died, he’d suck at go kart racing. I know, that’s correlation without causation, but we’re talking about hackneyed movies here.
Am I being cynical? Perhaps. But the bromidic wave that is the Go Karts screenplay offers so many formulaic elements, I grew angrier with each one: The flashbacks to Dead Dad doing doughnuts. The old man who resists the coaching opportunity, but gives in and ultimately feels less lonely. The bad-guy racing team with the popped collars. The sneering bully who makes Draco Malfoy look like Eeyore. The sneering bully’s sneering minion, whose fake cackle makes him sound like he’s auditioning to play the Joker. The cop eating a literal pastry. The break-up-and-make-up crap. The announcer for the go kart race, who says garbage like “He’s hugging the inside of the track like it’s his favorite granny!” and has us pondering exactly how great the potential audience for go kart racing broadcasts is. The inevitable comeuppances. The quasi-philosophical blah blah about always taking the inside of the turn and all that, which function as metaphors for crap and things. And Milk and Stuff. Nothing pissed me off as much as Milk and Stuff. MWNPSBG’s marketing consultant needs to be sacked.
Our Call: SKIP IT. I could tell you the basic premise of Go Karts and you could fill in each story beat with 100 percent accuracy. Watching such unabashedly predictable stuff like this isn’t comforting, it’s boring.