Gymkhana 7, the latest piston-pounding production from rally car driver (and DC Shoes co-founder) Ken Block, is a wild race through the streets of Los Angeles. Get ready for a five-star joyride with pop-culture signposts ranging from familiar SoCal landmarks to a cheeky recreation of O.J. Simpson's famous flight from justice in a Ford Bronco.
The 12-minute film, directed by Ben Conrad (who else?), has more than 6 million views after a day on YouTube. It begins with Block's custom 845-horsepower 1965 Ford Mustang in a garage, restrained by a cable, going nowhere as its wheels furiously grind and thick plumes of smoke pour from the tires, enveloping the car. The smoke signals a shift into cinematic fantasy.
When the car bursts into daylight, it seems transformed. Its headlamps glow like the eyes of a metal steed all too ready for its close-up. This is Hollywood, after all, land of celluloid thrills—and for the next 10 minutes, Block blows the doors off the high-octane storyline.
"Because I'm from Southern California, and I love L.A., I had certain ideas about shooting in certain areas," he says. "It turns out, if you work with the permitting people, and the police, you can get major things done."
Block is an immensely gifted driver, and a local boy, so here he gets to try this stuff at home. Highlights include speeding along the sun-bleached concrete channel of the L.A. River and dipping a back wheel in the shallows; a road-ripping trip to iconic Randy's in Inglewood for (what else?) "donuts"; a surrealistic jaunt through Chinatown that makes the streets—cleared of pedestrians for the shoot—resemble a movie set; and of course, the O.J. send-up, an inspired visual gag that makes a big impression despite lasting just a few seconds.
Even the police cruisers standing watch for Block's stunts become props for his amusement, just as the twisty clover-leaf freeways serve as cues in the perfectly executed script. By the time he drives his Ford Mustang repeatedly beneath the frame of a bouncing low-rider—that's one car passing under the raised front tires of another, people!—my pulse was thumping in overdrive.
Mostly there's no soundtrack, just the roaring, revving engine and the squeal of tortured tires. The ragged strains of "Mountain Song" by Jane's Addiction swell as the story reaches its climax, appropriately enough, at the Hollywood sign, high in the hills, with the City of Angles quietly nestled below.
Block's Hoonigan apparel line, Ford and video-game maker Need for Speed backed the film. It was reportedly budgeted at over $1 million and took a year to plan and five days to shoot, using dozens of cameras (from elaborate rigs to GoPros) and a crew of about 100.
This is the fourth consecutive Gymkhana entry directed by Conrad, and the series ranks as the most watched and shared branded Web franchise of all time. San Francisco and Paris, among other cities, have previously hosted Block's motorized mayhem. This installment feels especially playful and layered, as L.A. provides the ideal backdrop for meta commentary and media-centric humor. O.J.'s 1994 low-speed chase was, after all, a media event of startling magnitude, covered live by seemingly every news outlet in America. There's even a reference to Block's personal history, as his Mustang literally drives circles around a Subaru—his previous car of choice—discarded by the river.
With these and other deft, knowing touches, Gymkhana 7 takes pole position in the franchise. It's a genuine Hollywood blockbuster.
Concept Director, Script Writer, Driver: Ken Block
Creative Director: Brian Scotto
Production Company: Logan & Sons
Director: Ben Conrad
Director of Photography: Jordan Valenti
Editor: Volkert Besseling
Executive Producer: Nick Moceri
Producers: Rick Brown, Pierre Nobile, Scott Siegal
Associate Director: Jeremy Robinson
Production Design: Matthew Holt
Stunt Supervisor: Eliza Coleman
Aerial Cinematography: Tempt Media
Post Production Company: Logan
Title Design: Ara Devejian
Sound Design: Keith Ruggiero
Location Manager: Justin Besemer
Online Editor: Carl Edwards