Racing movies, like racing itself, are still a largely male preserve. Just as Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney successfully fought for a place for herself on the track, so did Bonnie Bedelia among stars of racing movies. (She wasn’t the real Muldowney’s first choice to play herself; the drag racing champ, who served as a consultant on the movie, told Sports Illustrated she felt Bedelia was too prim and would have preferred Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Bedelia may not be as rough-edged as the real Muldowney, but she’s a flesh-and-blood woman, neither icon nor saint. Director Jonathan Kaplan has a grasp of how hard it is to be a woman in a macho, patriarchal world (see The Accused, Unlawful Entry, and Bad Girls), but he’s an entertainer and an exploitation filmmaker at heart. The gaudy, grubby arena of professional drag-racing is the kind of circus sideshow where he feels at home, not as a polemicist but as a showman. Gentlemen — and woman — start your engines!
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