TALES OF THE RAT FINK (Ron Mann). 76 minutes. Opens Friday (September 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Ron Mann's sprightly account of the career of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth offers the same simple pleasures as earlier films like Twist, in which archival footage, lively, simple animation and cheery music - this time a heavily surf-inflected score by the Sadies - carry us easily through a straightforward look at a somewhat forgotten corner of pop culture.
Roth was in on the ground floor of the custom car craze, one of the first to start painting flames on the old clunkers rebuilt for street racing by early-50s California teens. He created the Rat Fink, the scruffy, sweaty green rodent deliberately designed as a poke in the eye to Mickey Mouse, and marketed him in model kits to kids all over the continent. The film also claims him as the inventor of T-shirts with messages, fibreglass auto bodies and more.
Roth died in 2001, but Mann has John Goodman narrating as Roth. Other celebrities, including Jay Leno, the Smothers Brothers and an improbable Tom Wolfe, voice the cars.
It's a cute device, although the film itself is not what you'd call either historically rigorous or an in-depth profile. For instance, we learn nothing about Roth's private life.
The highly cool cars and light comic script, however, make this an enjoyable glance at an artist whose influence is still all over pop culture.