Ian Wright: Wright Across America Review
In spite of the actual content of this DVD release, I'm not really here to see the American adventures of Ian Wright. Nor his friend, either. And I have no interest in motorbikes beyond those that Evel Knievel used to hurl himself over buses, fountains and the Grand Canyon, none of which, with their distinctive stars-and-stripes design, Wright rides on his way across the US. No, I'm really just here for Ian Wright, ex-footballer for Arsenal.
Realising that 90% of all readers have just hit the back button, I can continue by saying that in the wind and rain I sat on the North Bank at Highbury watching them scrape draws and slender 1-0 wins. I was there for testimonial matches, cup games and Euro ties. I took to supporting Bishop's Stortford when I learned that ex-Arsenal player, Martin Hayes, was that team's player-manager. On being lucky enough to be gifted tickets to corporate boxes at sporting events, I refused all manner of rugby matches, Formula 1 weekenders, Wimbledon and Ascot in favour of midweek games at Arsenal. My children wore Arsenal baby grows, which were signed by the players, and, damn the expense, now wear the new home shirts with Fly Emirates, rather than JVC or the Dreamcast swirl, on the chest. My bookshelf aches under biographies of, amongst others, Tony Adams, Paul Merson, George Graham and, yes, Ian Wright. And now, it's this DVD, with Wright (and custom motorbike builder Nicky Bootz) arriving stateside with a Harley-Davidson.
However, I'm not entirely sure that I would want to travel from one side of America to the other in the company of Ian Wright. To say that he's a little outspoken is like saying that swimming amidst a shoal of piranha might give you a nip or two. Or that horse riding nude on a saddle made of sandpaper may cause a little chafing. Even going back to the Wright'n'Bright partnership at Crystal Palace, Ian Wright was loud. He got louder at Arsenal and seems to have landed in a couple of jobs well-suited to his particular temperament, as a radio phone-in DJ for Talk Radio and as the host of Gladiators. At no point is it suggested, though, that Wright's long-time ambition was to ride across America on a Harley-Davidson. Granted, he played in the years before there was silly money washing about in the Premier League but he can't be short of a bob or two and a return ticket and a Harley-Davidson can't exactly be out of his financial reach. Still, each to their own. My lifelong dream is to marry Heather Thomas and if ITV are keen on making that making for me (or, rather, us) as they did Ian Wright then all to the good.
After a brief introduction, which is hardly long enough to get to know one another considering they're to spend the next three weeks together, Bootz and Wright leave with a, "Let's see America! Fuck it!" However, short as that moment of bonding is, it's perfectly clear that Bootz and Wright may not ever describe one another as best friends. And it doesn't take long for the two of them to come, if not to blows, then at least to a disagreement on riding styles. Nicky takes Ian aside to tell him that, while it's not dangerous, US truckers may not appreciate him swinging in front of them as he might have done in the UK. There's much, "Fuck it!...I'm here to ride!" from Wright but the difference between the two men is fairly clear - Wright seems thin-skinned and easily upset whereas Bootz is easy-going and out to enjoy himself. If that means having a couple of Hooters girls hanging off his arm at a biker rally then so be it, only that Wright can't quite see what girls in bikinis have to do with biking.
Otherwise, it's as typical a travelogue as you'd expect of anyone travelling to the States. There are some surprising stops on the trip, like a British ex-pat pub full of pictures of Churchill and the Queen Mum or the headquarters of the American branch of JCB. These are out of the ordinary, though, as the stops are those that anyone might do, be it Sun Studios in Memphis, a ranch, a shooting range and an alligator farm. They get to stay in a wigwam, which gives Wright the opportunity to point out that the guy on the reception desk is wearing a wig. They go up in a hot-air balloon, camp out in the Grand Canyon and stop off at Calico, an old mining town that is home to a lot more people (and a gun-toting dog) that one would expect for a ghost town. The countryside does often look spectacular and no matter that one has seen it many times before - ironically enough, it does seem very much like that seen in Wild Hogs - it still looks great. Then again, as good as the sights are, there's as much of it as there are the insides of various bars in the southern states of America and if you've seen Nicky Bootz drink beer and shoot pool once, you've seen it a dozen times.
Wright's problem seems to be that, with this trip being his lifelong dream, he has invested so much in thinking what it ought to be like, he struggles with having someone like Nicky Bootz along, who's happy to ride with Wright but who also wants to do his own thing. They do reach something of an understanding in the second half of the series but largely because Wright has calmed down somewhat and learned to roll with the way his trip across America played itself out. It's what he should have done all along. Contrast this with Long Way Down, which is being shown on BBC at the moment, and it's not much of very enjoyable. Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman are good friends and it shows. This leaves them relaxed enough to chat amiably with whoever it is they meet even if there's no common tongue between them. Here, there's very little meeting any of the locals or hearing stories from any particular town. What there is comes from Bootz or support driver Ray-Ray, not Wright. A perfect example is of them visiting a gun store in which Wright grumbles quietly to camera about the guns, the stuffed animals and bottled fox piss.
The characters of the two men come across best not when they're together but in their motel rooms at night when they record their video diaries. There, they complain about having to spend time in each other's company - Bootz about the early nights that Wright seems to enjoy whereas Wright gets things off his chest by saying, "You've been a complete prick...a complete wanker!" And that's an argument over how they had their steaks cooked. Later, Wright gets a puncture on his back tyre, which Bootz blames on his riding on the hard shoulder. Bootz gives up his bike to allow Wright to continue but there's bad blood between the two. When they get to a workshop the next day, the argument continues. No matter that he's the star of the show, you can't help but feel bad for Wright. Bootz says that he's having these words with Wright to stop him from getting hurt and the longer things go on, the more you end up feeling embarrassed for Wright. The problem with this is that the bits on the road are often so dull that, rather than the bits of tourism, these arguments are the highlights of the series. A poor show, then, when you have a travelogue like this. Anyone looking for an entertaining tour of the US on motorbikes will be very disappointed.
Anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, this is a decent presentation. The picture is reasonably sharp and detailed and colours are especially good but there's a dreadful shade of green that's draped over the recap of events at the end of each episode. There was really no need for that, neither the recap nor the green tint, and is the only problem that exists with this DVD. he DD2.0 audio track is fine but given the nature of the show, some of the dialogue is lost beneath the noise of the motorbikes, passing traffic and background noise. Finally, there are no subtitles.
There's quite a bit of bonus footage included at the tail end of the second disc in the set, showing scenes deleted from the show, either in part of in full. Altogether, these last for 44m37s and offer a fair mix of events on the road. My personal favourite was Wright telling Nicky the reasons why he didn't want to become a football manager, using the stresses felt by Arsene Wenger after winning the double as an example. Nicky, however, just sounds bored. Still, I was happy with just about any mention of Arsenal.