Review: V8 – Start Your Engines!

Writer/Director Joachim Masannek’s claim to fame to date is Die Wilden Kerle, or The Wild Soccer Bunch as it is known in English. Hitting German cinemas today, and likely expanding internationally through the end of the year and into 2014, is his latest film. V8 – Du Willst der Beste sein, or V8- Start Your Engines!. In a manner similar to the trajectory of the aforementioned series, V8 combines elements of myriad genres to put a unique spin on its tale.

At its core it’s a sports movie about four kids who are selected to challenge the reigning local go-kart champions, who are one win away from solidifying their place in a mystical castle. However, the myth of that locale, the secretive nature of these races and other things layer on a fantastical element to the story. Whereas Die Wilden Kerle seemed to leapfrog its predominant genre from film to film Masannek here it creating a melange from the get-go and what makes it even more impressive is the naturalistic way in which it occurs. It functions even with these disparate elements, such as being a film designed for kids, but also having its coming-of-age aspects, not unlike The Crocodiles (Vorstadtkrokodile), allows it to work on a few levels.

Not forgetting that while the core group of character are four, the antagonists (The Barracudas) are at least that excluding their posse; it’s highly impressive that the film does not get bogged down, the leads don’t get sketched like the multi-character tales in the prior franchise, but knowing them is key to driving the story forward. The Barracudas use what they know about the interpersonal dynamics of the V8 team to precision in trying to get an upper hand. So, yes, there are comedy elements (most which do translate- some remain obscured in the unique brand of dialogue Masannek’s films occasionally have); there’s manipulation that gets you on the side of the challenging team; there’s the struggle to individuate, to do what you like and do it well, all the clashing that budding friendships can have, as well as a subsumed love triangle which plays into all that – as well as a sibling rivalry. And, even with all that the film doesn’t feel messy at all because for the most part this disparate elements rise above the fray organically.

V8 - Start Your Engines! (2013, Universal/Rat Pack)

Yes, and then it’s a racing film as well, which it is predominantly, but focus needed to be given to what separates it. The racing are very well done and one of the motifs the film frequently employs to great effect it many iterations of split-screens in its montage building and it’s one of the most effective consistent uses I’ve seen.

While Masannek demands a lot of himself as a writer and director juggling these emotional tones, genre tropes and plot elements that also puts a lot on the shoulders of the young ensemble who rise to the challenge on countless occasions. The leads being David (Georg Sulzer) and his sister Luca (Maya Lauterbach), David’s love-interest Kiki Lilou (Klara Merkel) and Robin (Samuel Jakob) his rival, the poor little rich boy whose father care more about his success than him. Sulzer easily communicates his frustrations with his his sister, with Robin, when they’re at odds; as well as more sincere emotions. David is an imperfect protagonist who does make mistakes but is ultimately affable enough. Lauterbach carries herself with a poise of an actress at least twice her age and pulls off many of the affectations of her character flawlessly. Merkel’s character has to be equal parts tough-as-nails and sensitive and is never off-putting, but always endearing; a very promising screen presence. Whereas Jakob has the most deceptively difficult challenge before him, playing the character with the stiff upper-lip who only occasionally cracks and does very well.

However, the exploits of the rival team are nothing to scoff at. Namely, Nick Romeo Reimann, who up until this point has been a heroic lead, plays a villain adept at mind-games brilliantly. Also, noteworthy is Tom Hoßbach who must quietly portray that deep down he’s the good-natured one of the lot.

V8 - Start Your Engines! (2013, Rat Pack/Universal)

V8 not only does more juggling of genre elements and themes in kid-centric sports film than say something like Real Steel, but it also is a more sophisticated implementation of Masannek’s style as well as a series starting off on the right foot. As opposed to say the Fast & Furious franchise, which it does tip its hat to. V8 finishes its tale in a very gratifying fashion. How the final outcome is achieved is excellent and there are some good turns in the road along the way. It’s especially worth noting that the race that all the drama lead up to is also very well-executed. The film makes no secret of its intent to set-up a sequel, but it also finishes appropriately. With this as a set-up building quite a fascinating and endearing mythology, I welcome that prospect with open arms and I’m quite sure there are audiences worldwide that would too.