Riccardo Scamarcio, best known in North America for playing the Italian crime lord in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” stars as Cesare Fiorio, the manager for Italy’s Team Lancia, funded by Fiat, which is under intense pressure to win the WRC, because the event has always been known as a terrific way to test and then sell new types of cars—but only when a team is victorious. Unfortunately, Team Lancia has sat out the last two races, and Fiat’s most formidable competitor, Audi—led by Roland Gumpert (Daniel Brühl)—has more funding and manpower, plus a technological edge: four-wheel drive cars that are a great asset in the varied real-world terrain that WRC drivers go through. There isn’t enough time, money, or technical ability to catch up with the Germans before the series of races begins, so Team Lancia has to do the best it can with what it has.
Lancia’s main asset, according to this film, anyway, is Fiorio himself. As portrayed by Scamarcio, who also coproduced and cowrote the movie, Fiorio is an intense, stoic obsessive whose entire life revolves around winning. He also has a trickster’s instincts, and is good at devising on-the-spot solutions to seemingly irresolvable problems, such as partially snow-covered roads (which would have put Lancia’s two-wheel drive cars at a disadvantage) or the requirement that car manufacturers entering the WRC have 200 prototype cars on hand to qualify (Lancia only has 103, and the race is happening the very next day). Fiorio’s solutions are ingenious enough that it would be unsporting to reveal them here; suffice to say that he’s the sort of person who reads rulebooks carefully and notices what’s forbidden and what’s not mentioned.
“Race for Glory” falters in executing the expected beats of a racing film, such as depicting the creation of a team of quirky but passionate oddballs and helping us understand their psychologies. This is what you might call the low-hanging fruit of genre storytelling, but a lot gets left on the vine here.
Take the scene where Fiorio goes looking for retired driver turned beekeeper Walter Röhrl (Volker Bruch) to get him on Team Lancia. It’s is a beautiful example of how to tell audiences what’s happening without telling them what’s happening: they manage to have an entire conversation without Fiorio specifically asking him to come out of retirement and join the team, even though they both know that’s the point of the exchange. But we never quite get a sense of whether the quietly flamboyant Röhrl (portrayed as sort of a 1970s Robert Redford hotshot) is worth the sum total of his maddening eccentricities (such as pausing mid-race to have a relaxed, lengthy conversation with a farmer), nor do we get any insight into other odd aspects of his method, such as his refusal to participate in half of the rallies (or his reason for doing one but not another).