Nick Freeman (David Essex) is a British motorcycle racer who wants a shot at the World Championships so he can beat his main rival, the American Bruce McBride (Beau Bridges). But not today, as his machine lets him down and he is forced to pull out of an important competition, knowing that his dreams of success must now be put to the back of his mind as he has to return to his job as a mechanic at a garage. His right hand man, Cider (Clarke Peters), still has faith that they will make the grade some day, but then they hear tragic news: Nick's brother has been killed in a motorbike accident. On the plus side, it does mean Nick gets his bike...
Yes, we're supposed to see the death of the main character's brother as a bonus in Silver Dream Racer because it gives him the opportunity to succeed in his chosen profession. Ah, but we're being lulled into a false sense of security, or we are if we see the original British version as the American release omits the sobering twist. It's supposed to be a sobering twist anyway, but after one and three-quarter hours of boredom it ends up being funnier than any punchline they could have thought up for the climax, and is worth watching for that alone: it's definitely the bit that everyone recalls.
What this really aims for is to be The Barry Sheene Story, a film that was essentially made four years later as Space Riders with the advantage that it actually starred the motorcycle champion, but here we get Mr Essex drawing to the end of his short-lived career as a leading man on the big screen, if not the stage. The eighties would mark the point where the star would turn from pop idol to an object of desire for women of a certain age, and judging by the quality of this it's not surprising that he lost his wider appeal to become the exclusive preserve of the fans who grew up with him, as Silver Dream Racer may have awarded him a top ten hit single, but other than that it did him no favours.
The chief problem is that for a movie about speed, fast-moving bikes and white knuckle rides, it spends a dismayingly brief time on the track and more often than not will have Nick wondering aloud about how he can get the cash together to put his brand new bike into action. Indeed, aside from the beginning when his old bike sputters out, we don't see him compete until nearly ten minutes before the end credits roll and the rest is more concerned with his love life with McBride's old girlfriend Julie (Cristina Raines). You can tell by the American cast members that this had both feet firmly in the transatlantic market, thereby satisfying hardly anyone on both sides of the ocean simultaneously.
Another reason Silver Dream Racer becomes a chore is that it has a terrible sense of humour as well, with comic interludes abounding to make us see Nick as a likeable Jack the Lad, when actually it leaves a stony, laughter-free silence with each progressive gag. For example, Nick Brimble essays the role of a comical heavy who just wants to listen to his radio while he works in the same garage Nick and Cider do, but said electrical equipment keeps getting trashed; this running joke presumably was meant to have you chuckling louder each time it occurs, but you end up feeling really sorry for the guy instead. For some reason Harry H. Corbett was cast as the owner, but they don't give him any humorous lines to work his magic with, another example of amusement failure. That hilarious ending makes up for it, of course, but that bit wasn't supposed to be funny. Music by Essex himself.
[Silver Dream Racer has been restored and released on Blu-ray by Network in their extensive British Film line.]