Film Review: Air Racers 3D

Shot mostly at the Reno Championship races over a two-year period, this rather superficial documentary was completed before last year's race in which 12 people were killed in a horrendous accident. The aerial photography excels, but the script disappoi

There is no question that anyone interested in the positive aspects of air racing will enjoy the visual goodies on display in Air Racers 3D, as (mostly vintage) planes built during the 1920s to 1940s and then upgraded to the highest current standards are put through their paces. The film also delves into the history of aviation, explaining that America's first air race was held in 1909, only six years after the Wright Brothers launched their first flight.

The clean, sunlit skies over Reno, Nevada, where the race is held, fill with colorful military and civilian craft, upgraded to a high sheen like the spiffy P-51 Mustang. Planes travel up to 500 miles per hour, racing 300 feet off the ground in front of packed bleachers containing enthusiastic fans. Every plane is painted to look its Sunday best, and each is also souped up with the latest mechanical innovations. In addition, daredevil drivers, inspired by the pilots, demonstrate jet-powered trucks and super-cars. Military air-sync teams like Canada's Snowbirds demonstrate breathtaking harmony in the skies. The aerial photography is so effective, it might make even gung-ho audiences airsick.

While children can accept the stomach-churning dives and climbs as gracefully as they handle roller-coasters, adults may not be quite so enthusiastic. How much ticket buyers care about the visual novelty of 3D remains debatable.

Early in the film, we are introduced to Steve Hinton Jr., who will be competing to become the youngest pilot to win the Reno competition, fueled by a lifetime of study under his father, Steve Hinton, a two-time champion. And then we hear no more from Hinton until the end of the film, when he is suddenly displayed holding a very tall trophy aloft, having actually won the race. This moment has all the impact of a Super Bowl MVP jumping out of a locker room for a quick photo, and then racing away with no comment.

The $5 million film also features a silly recreation of a World War II dogfight in which the pilots declaim some of the most improbably facile dialogue ever spoken. Christian Fry and Rick Dowlearn's script is almost as rudimentary. It is not helped by Paul Walker’s "Gee whiz!" narrative style, which is more redundant than explanatory. Perhaps in an effort to keep things simple for the kids, the script occasionally lapses into the simple-minded.