Sometimes filmmakers should really stop and question the criteria that are used in determining the value of a documentary. Despite what many may think, it isn’t just as simple as pointing a camera at real life events and watching them unfold. There’s a craftsmanship that is necessary to tell a story using actual events, or to communicate a moral or lesson based on the experiences of real people. Smash: Motorized Mayhem does neither of these things, instead acting as a promotional video for a Florida school bus racing circuit. That in and of itself is fine, if somewhat uninspired, but the lack of skill with which the disparate footage is assembled is, at times, mind-boggling.
To say that the 65 minute runtime is entirely about the Smasharama school bus racing culture is disingenuous to say the least. The film jumps around between biographical information on the circuit’s mechanic and drivers, but rarely ties those points back to the actual races or the culture surrounding them. There’s also an omnipresent need to compare the bus driving to NASCAR, for whatever reason, supposedly to legitimize the sport despite the constant attestation that bus racing is just for fun. The narrative shifts all over the place without any sense of cohesion, and at the end of the day, there just doesn’t seem to be a story to tell.
That may be why director Kevin J. Burroughs employed the folksy narration of W. Earl Brown to try to lend some coherence to the proceedings, but if anything, it only serves as a distraction and a source of further confusion. Not only does the narration depart and reappear with little rhyme or reason, but some of the lines that Brown has to say are beyond nonsensical, making reference to political incorrectness or Brown v. The Board of Education when there is nothing on screen remotely related to those vaguely racist allusions. It’s an absolutely bizarre spectacle that veers beyond annoyance once you pick up on the endless twanging guitar track that plays over the entire film.
Making a promotional video for a little-known sport is one thing, but Smash: Motorized Mayhem doesn’t seem interested in promoting school bus racing to anyone who isn’t already invested. The focus is so much on the lives and mechanical prowess of the competitors that it feels more like a perpetual exercise of shouting “Look Mom, I’m on TV!” There’s no ethos, no reason for anyone new to take interest, and even then it’s some of the most inept nonfiction filmmaking I’ve had the displeasure of seeing. If you’re interested in watching this mess, this review isn’t likely to sway you against it, but that’s because you’re probably in it.