Dust to Glory
dir. Brown
Opens Fri April 8
Cinema 21

I just had my first experience buying car insurance, which isn't one of the cool things about growing up. (A cool thing is when you realize you can have ice cream and beer for breakfast. A lame thing is realizing you have to buy car insurance.) But now I'm glad I have insurance, because after watching Dust to Glory--Dana Brown's euphoric documentary about the no-holds-barred, off-road race called the Baja 1000--I suspect that I'm about to become a far more dangerous driver.

Dust to Glory is an uneven film, but as directed and narrated by Brown, its highs (spectacular footage, moving stories of the racers) make up for its lows (overbearing narration, some sappy music that'd be more at home at the end of a Full House episode). Brown--whose previous film was the surfing doc Step Into Liquid--captures the grit, speed, and daring of the Baja 1000's racers, who race an ever-changing course in vehicles that range from multi-million dollar trophy trucks to unmodified, pre-1982 Volkswagen Beetles. Motorcycles, quads, buggies--all of them are pushed through rock, sand, silt, and thousands of way-too-close-for-comfort spectators in a brutal race that's as much about survival as it is about speed.

With hands-on cinematography and slick editing, Brown captures the visceral spirit of the grueling, 1,000-mile race. Shots of cars rolling over, catching on fire, and bashing competitors off the road are tempered with serene shots of motorcycles at top speed, kicking up sand and seawater as they skim along beaches. But Brown's smart enough to know that those who race are the real story, and he finds an assortment of incredibly likable (albeit suicidal) racers--from the soulful guys in beat-up VW Bugs to Mike "Mouse" McCoy, who does the unthinkable by deciding to race the entire Baja 1000 solo on his motorcycle.

But maybe the best thing about Dust to Glory is the promise that it holds--that anybody with a vehicle and the entrance fee can go down to Mexico, sign up, and participate in the most demanding and fun off-road race in the world. Which means my new car insurance policy might be getting more of a workout than previously predicted.