With the recent surge of films surrounding the open wheel Formula 1 circuit, there have been smaller, quieter brothers within the genre that have been released, examining a variety of racing tournaments. Admittedly, Snake & Mongoose had a familiar name as one of the areas of focus, but it shed light on something I was not aware of.
Written by Alan Paradise and directed by Wayne Holloway, the film chronicles the story of two California drag racers who had a friendly rivalry that they used to elevate the visibility of the sport. On one side there was Tom McEwen (Richard Blake, Dragonball: Evolution), the other had Don Prudhomme (Jesse Williams, Brooklyn's Finest). The ying and yang nature of their rivalry combined with their occupation gave the former the name of the "Mongoose" while the other was the "Snake." It was the most popular part of the National Hot Rod Association, but they were not seeing a lot of revenue from what was increasingly becoming a fatal occupation. They managed to develop a partnership with Mattel and a new line of die-cast replica cars called "Hot Wheels," and the result was something beyond the wildest expectations of McEwen or Prudhomme.
The big thing to remember when it comes to Snake and Mongoose is that it does not try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to telling the story. A large portion of the film is told using a mix of vintage film from the races that Prudhomme and McEwen have. Sometimes they are with each other, other times they include competitor races, sometimes showing the tragic crashes which led to deaths. It illustrates the desire for Prudhomme and McEwen have to make a living for their family, because the reality may be unspeakable.
The wives of both racers deal with this how they can, and there is some obligatory friction between Mrs. Mongoose or Snake and the racer Mongoose or Snake. These moments have to be shown to try to introduce some emotional resonance, which I understand, but it does not mean I like to see it. It seems to check off boxes that hundreds of movies have done before. Then again, one would have to consider the limitations of some of the creative team involved with the production.
From a performance perspective, both Blake and Williams are good as the leads in the film and they convey some convincing sense of believability in their rivalry and mutual respect. Ashley Hinshaw (Chronicle) and Kim Shaw (She's Out of My League) play Mrs. Prudhomme and McEwen, respectively, and their relationships with their husbands looks genuine. Adding onto the gravitas in the ensemble is Noah Wyle (ER) as the Mattel executive and Fred Dryer (Hunter) as engineer Ed Donovan and creator of McEwen's nickname.
To borrow a phrase that will undoubtedly sound like a pun, Snake and Mongoose is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It is comfortable in the skin and restrictions it places on itself and has no problem with it. It shows good composure and self-confidence in the story and the key moments in the course of it. It is going to be focusing on a very specific group of people (I mean, how many NHRA fans do YOU know?) but as a standalone film is holds its weight. God help me it was not bad.
The AVC encode on the Blu-ray of Snake & Mongoose is not bad. The film is juggling practically shot footage with ample amounts of old film from races between and outside of the pair and it looks decent. Colors look natural without fear of saturation. Image detail is good and textures are easily noticeable along with film grain during the viewing experience. Black levels in the film fluctuate a little bit, but otherwise the film's modest production values are reflected nicely and the disc is without substantive issue.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is the expected star of the disc and is so, with ample use of the low end and panning to make for a pleasant and immersive experience. In quieter moments, dialogue is well balanced and consistent throughout. However overall, the lack of consistent directional effects is the only thing holding the film back from being a sonic gem. Still, it is nothing to sneeze at.
The only extra is a look behind the movie called (appropriately enough) "Behind The Movie" (11:56), where the cast and crew discuss the story, and the real Prudhomme and McEwen lob in an occasional detail and also include their opinions of their lives becoming movies. It is quick and easy.
Snake and Mongoose is a decent story about two people with a shared experience that not many others could really relate. They manage to achieve something they do not expect while still doing this passion, and support each other how they can off the track regardless of circumstance. It is a surprisingly decent film. Technically, it is good but the sound is better than the picture. The extra is just that, an intriguing rental.