Here’s when I blew a gasket during NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience. Talking about the gigantic custom trailers that transport regulation vehicles to speedways across the country, narrator Kiefer Sutherland reports that ”of course” the rigs are ”equipped with AOL for Broadband.” Of course? It’s not enough that America Online is an official NASCAR partner, and that AOL is a corporate cousin of Warner Bros., which shares a producing credit for the movie with IMAX and the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing itself? Or that corporate cousin Turner Sports Interactive produces the official NASCAR website? Or that I, in my 3-D glasses, was taking notes for Entertainment Weekly, a division of corporate cousin Time Inc.? This 47-minute ride needed to make room for an on-air product pitch, too?
It’s the ”of course” that temporarily strips the gears of synergy: This otherwise entertaining, aficionado-oriented production, with its circus-act technology that lets a viewer feel, briefly, like a member of the Petty racing dynasty, is as gaudily patched with corporate sponsorship as the sport itself. And that’s not counting the piggyback promotion achieved with every shot of the logo-covered fans who have made auto racing America’s biggest spectator sport. Operating, no doubt, from the notion that ”NASCAR 3D” should look as sunburned, frowsy, and well lubricated as the subject and population it covers, director Simon Wincer never settles for sleekness when mishmash will do. A few seconds of behind-the-wheel POV and we’re watching a pit crew running their paces, then fans cheering, then inset shots of dramatic crashes, then a loving memorial to late racing hero Dale Earnhardt, then back to a couple hundred more logos. Incidentally, Domino’s Pizza is the ”official pizza delivery” of NASCAR. I’m just saying.