Race the Sun
Charles T. Kanganis
Richard Heus, Barry Morrow
Halle Berry, James Belushi, Casey Affleck, Eliza Dushku, Kevin Tighe
March 22, 1996
Race the Sun is a 1996 comedy-drama movie starring Halle Berry and James Belushi. The plot is loosely based on the true story of the Konawaena High School Solar Car Team, which finished 18th in the 1990 World Solar Challenge and first place among high school entries.
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A new science teacher (Halle Berry) at Kona Pali High School in Hawaii pushes a group of students to come up with a science project. With a combination of design vision, mechanical skills, knowledge of batteries, and lightweight drivers, the students design and build a solar-powered car they name "Cockroach." Their team manages to outperform a corporate-sponsored car and win the local Big Island competition by correctly predicting cloudy weather based on the surfing experience of the student captain, Daniel (Casey Affleck). Cloudy weather would make their vehicle's battery capacity a more important factor than its weight.
With the shop teacher as chaperone (James Belushi), the students travel to Australia to compete in the World Solar Challenge. To the relief of their corporate sponsor (Kevin Tighe), who is still bitter over the loss of his company-built vehicle in Hawaii, their car is delayed at the very start of the race. However, the students choose to persevere and remain in the race.
A sand storm and other difficulties provide occasions for heroism. Uni Kakamura (Sara Tanaka) pilots the car through difficult terrain, but has an accident and is rescued by Gilbert (J. Moki Cho). After Cindy (Eliza Dushku) is disqualified from driving for drinking alcohol, Eduardo (Anthony Ruivivar) puts aside his "lolo-haole" conflict with Daniel and reduces the car to allow the overweight Gilbert to drive.
The film was written and co-produced by Barry Morrow, who had shared the 1988 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay for Rain Man. The story was based on the solar car team from Konawaena High School, which finished 18th overall in the 1990 World Solar Challenge and first place among high school entries, and was the first high school team to finish the Challenge.
Stephen Holden of the New York Times said the "movie doesn't waste time admiring the technology at the expense of human drama, of which there is plenty, none of it overblown". Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle compared Race the Sun to Cool Runnings for solar cars, saying it "boasts not only the lively spectacle of the race but also the kids learning to set aside their differences and insecurities to bond as a team. It's not a soaring, transcendent film experience -- mostly it's corny and predictable. But it has a certain sunny charm and a few winning gags to keep it in the winning column." Carole Glines of Box Office Magazine also mentions the film's predictability, saying the student characters "all receive about a minute of screen time for character development as the plot paces through its predictable course." Hollis Chacona of the Austin Chronicle said "you might as well call this movie Hot Runnings", and notes that J. Moki Cho's character Gilbert gives this film substance and a "sweet quality that makes it easier to swallow than you might expect".
The film grossed $1.1 million on its opening weekend and grossed a total of $1.9 million in the U.S.