“Smash: Motorized Mayhem” is a documentary about a particularly unique form of racing. This activity takes everything a motorsports fan could love about stock car racing and demolition derbies, and ups the ante just a little bit more. Why watch a car get t-boned on a dirt track when it could be a school bus instead? And as the movie gleefully demonstrates, a bus is much more prone to end up on its side, what with its higher center of gravity. And just like the majority of racing events, the occasional wreck is what brings the fans to their feet. That’s what makes demolition derbies so popular: a higher frequency of collisions. And school bus racing is no exception.
The documentary pushes the boundaries of what can be considered a feature-length motion picture, as it is only sixty-five minutes long. Films of this length are sometimes included in festivals as well, but that doesn’t make the question any less pertinent: which category do they belong in? Should they be considered short films? “Smash: Motorized Mayhem” feels short when one considers the details of its subject matter.
On top of the short run time, “Smash: Motorized Mayhem” feels like it belongs on syndicated television more so than a movie screen. It is reminiscent of something one might see on Whacked Out Sports or a similar clip show that pops up on local late-night TV. During the final race at the track, director Kevin J. Burroughs lets the speedway announcer take over, instead of relying on the narrator or letting the footage speak for itself. The camera work is decidedly low-budget as well, as the majority of the footage is grainy. And that’s’ not including the dirt and grime from the speedway track.
“Smash: Motorized Mayhem” focuses on four Orlando, FL men who spend most of their time around school buses or racing, and of course, the combination of the two. There is the man who runs the speedway, and the speedway’s mechanic. The mechanic spends his days repairing the buses to get them working for the following week’s race. Then there is the racer who drives a school bus by day, and an older, soon-to-retire busser for whom racing is a family affair. The camera follows these subjects briefly throughout their daily lives, not particularly interested in finding a unique story thread to tug on. Ramblings about rental properties and kids puking on the bus are obvious cries for an editor. Character actor W. Earl Brown(AMC’s Preacher, Warren in “There’s Something About Mary”) narrates the film, and his band’s(Sacred Cowboys) music can be heard over the end credits.
“Smash: Motorized Mayhem” certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. At one point, the speedway mechanic refers to himself as an ‘educated redneck’, which he interprets as ‘cheap.’ He had his wedding and the reception at the speedway, because he knew he could do it there for free. But it is hard to draw that line between laughing with the documentary’s subjects, and laughing at them, and the lax, amateurish style of the doc only makes it worse.
Admittedly, the trailer is funny, as buses are colliding and the fans in the stands are going crazy for it. “Smash: Motorized Mayhem” often times just feels like a longer version of the trailer. It gets swept up in the action and finds itself carried away. When the final fifteen minutes is basically coverage of one particular bus race, the ship has long sailed on finding an interesting narrative among the wreckage. “Smash: Motorized Mayhem” is more sports commentary and play-by-play than it is documentary, and it fails to find an interesting story once the final bus has coasted to a stop.