3

  • 2004
  • NR
  • Biography, Drama, Sports

Barry Pepper’s lean, mean performance as Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR's legendary "Intimidator," who raced his car #3 to glory and died during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, is the highlight of this made-for-TV biopic. Tired of doing brutal work for a pittance, North Carolina textile-mill worker Ralph Earnhardt (J. K. Simmons) instead carves a niche...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Barry Pepper’s lean, mean performance as Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR's legendary "Intimidator," who raced his car #3 to glory and died during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, is the highlight of this made-for-TV biopic. Tired of doing brutal work for a pittance, North Carolina textile-mill worker Ralph Earnhardt (J. K. Simmons) instead carves a niche for himself on 1960s speedways. Ralph's his son, Dale (Dylan Smith), wants to follow in his footsteps, but as far as Ralph is concerned the boy is better suited to being a mechanic than a driver. Ralph isn't particularly surprised when his rebellious and disobedient son drops out of school in 1967, and Dale (Pepper) faces a rocky road: He's painfully ill prepared for the responsibilities of teenaged marriage and fatherhood. But Dale is determined not to end his days working pit stops, and his ultra-competitive streak as a driver earns him a reputation for ruthlessness. Though Dale finds a lifelong ally in Neal Bonnett (Sean Bridgers), a more gentlemanly driver, Ralph never accords him more than grudging respect until the day he dies of a stroke in 1973. After a dozen years of honing his skills, Dale sets his sights on impressing manager Junior Johnson (David Hager), but Johnson's current champion, Darrell Waltrip (Greg Johnson), isn’t about to step aside without a fight. In a compromise move that proves providential, speed-demon Dale joins ex-racer Richard Childress' (Ron Prather) team in 1986 and quickly builds fan support with his daredevil moves. On the home front, he treats his own son, Dale Jr. (Chad McCumbee), exactly as his father treated him, with predictably contentious results; Earnhardt softens his parenting approach and re-establishes ties with his kids from previous relationships following Neal's death in a car crash. Aimed squarely at NASCAR enthusiasts and directed by Russell Mulcahy, this ESPN-produced film divides its time between flashy racing footage and soapy family melodrama; only Pepper's steely charisma holds it all together.

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