If you're a fan of visually stunning documentaries, you'll love Tales of the Rat Fink—that is, if you're deaf. That, and if you have no real interest in learning about the man who turned customizing cars into a national craze.
Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, for my money, is truly an American great—and not just because I love custom hot rods. He was one of those rare artists able to take the staid, everyday corporate icons of post-war America and turn them into subversion. Though he made his name completely re-imagining the humdrum automobiles rolling off the Detroit assembly line (coming up with such bizarre fiberglass creations as "Mysterion" and "The Beatnik Bandit"), he's most famous for his character "Rat Fink"—a disgusting-looking, sweaty rat known to car aficionados worldwide, and a slap in the face to the purity of Disney's Mickey Mouse.
For Roth, customization was an untapped art, and not only did he bust out some wild cars, he practically invented putting art on a T-shirt. Roth's really is an amazing story... unfortunately, this film isn't the one to tell it.
Director Ron Mann does a fantastic job handling visuals, choosing beautiful cars and archival footage. But the actual information that's passed on to the viewer could've easily been crammed into seven minutes of this painfully long 75-minute film. These tiny snippets of interesting information are buried in long-winded, unamusing monologues delivered by "talking hot rods" (groan!) voiced by Jay Leno, Ann-Margret, the Smothers Brothers, and way too many more.
"Big Daddy" Roth was a whimsical guy—I get that. But this film has fallen victim to whimsy overload, making it practically unwatchable except for the most diehard Roth fan, and maybe stoners. (Unsurprisingly, Tales of the Rat Fink has been nominated for "Best Documentary" by High Times magazine. Huh. Imagine that.)