Ed "Speedo" Jager, the irresistible subject of Speedo, is like a walking, talking Ramones song. He looks like a balding, middle-aged Wile E. Coyote (or at least Nicolas Cage's uncanny embodiment of him in Raising Arizona), talks in a strangled syntax that suggests a Long Island version of Barney from The Simpsons, and devotes his life to smashing up demolition-derby cars. He'd be easy to peg as an overgrown kid, but he takes his adult responsibilities as a husband and father seriously. He dotes on his adoring sons, and out of a commitment to sound values and nuclear-family togetherness, he stayed in a failed marriage in which he and his wife slept in separate rooms for 10 years.
The kind of guy who can use the phrase "rocking and rolling" as a verb without a trace of self-consciousness, Jager boasts the strange magnetism and off-kilter charisma of American Movie's Mark Borchardt and Slasher's Michael Bennett. He's an all-American shit-talker, an outsider artist whose medium of choice is the beat-up cars he lovingly tweaks to destroy as much as possible before they're destroyed themselves. Jesse Moss' affectionate documentary Speedo follows Jager as he racks up a string of wins in the New York derby circuit before heading south to compete against hotshots from around the country. At the same time, Moss details the final disintegration of Jager's marriage and his budding romantic relationship with an infinitely more compatible woman who embraces Jager's demolition-derby notoriety.
Speedo's tagline bills it as "a demolition derby love story," but it's actually at least three love stories. Most prominently, there's Jager's new love interest, but there's also his intense, lifelong love affair with cars and speed, as well as his love for his oldest son, who, in one of the film's most haunting scenes, performs with his punk band while Jager looks on with a dazed, deer-in-the-headlights expression. When Moss points out that the son shares his father's love of entertaining quips, Jager replies with uncharacteristic quiet introspection that the boy also shares his father's rage. On the audio commentary, Jager insists that his consuming anger has vanished now that he's in a happy, successful relationship, but it seems likely that it's just burrowed deeper under the surface. Nevertheless, he emerges as such a fundamentally endearing and colorful character that it's hard to begrudge him and the film its happy ending, whether or not it's 100 percent accurate.