What does ''Supercross" wish to tell us about the ways of motocross? That its riders are an assortment of ruthless boy hotties? That every race comes down to the resourceful privateer riders versus the corporate-sponsored factory ones? That at its most exhilarating -- at least under this movie's circumstances -- it's like a roller derby with hang time?
''Supercross," though, is not a movie for people who want to know more about the legitimately exciting motocross world. It also isn't for people who already know too much about it. Instead, it's for anyone looking to jump the gun on the start of the fall television season. In every sense, the movie feels like a pilot for a program that would follow ''The Mountain," that ski resort show on the WB.
The Carlyles, two California brothers in their 20s, dream of conquering motocross racing, which involves plowing a bike along a narrow, intensely curvy dirt track. They clean pools for a living and live in an unremarkable apartment. Both are daredevils, but Trip (Mike Vogel) is the bad boy, and K.C. (Steve Howey) is more responsible. When Trip loses the company pickup truck in a drag race, K.C. is hurt. Like girl-friend hurt. ''Are you that selfish and irresponsible that you don't ever see what it does to me?"
There just aren't enough of these cheesy, tender moments. Instead, the movie sets out to satisfy its tired story obligations. K.C. lucks into becoming a factory rider. His job is to run interference for a racer named Rowdy (Channing Tatum), who's just pretty and conceited enough to be credible as our villain. K.C. doesn't want to be a wingman, he wants to win. We know he will, and waiting for him to race to glory is torture. We have to sit though his brother's stalled career, his puppy love with a spunky girl racer, and the once-over from her daddy, who's played by a jowly Robert Patrick.
Implausibly, Rowdy's father is played by Robert Carradine, whose pants are hiked up to his chin and whose dialogue requires him to sing praises to K.C. such as, ''I love your hunger. You're like a rabid dog." He is? Howey plays Reba McEntire's son on her sitcom, and when his acting in ''Supercross" veers into anger, it's like he's taken a wrong turn. Still, he and Vogel are fine to watch in an I'll-settle-for-them-because Matt-and-Ben-have-moved-on sort of way. These two might have made more sense in a ''Dukes of Hazzard" remake than the stars that movie's producers chose.
What ''Supercross" does have going for it is an obvious love of the sport. If only it were contagious. The movie is never as outrageous or flagrant as ''Torque," ''Biker Boyz," ''2 Fast 2 Furious," or even ''The Dukes of Hazzard" -- or any other mediocre speed-junkie movie that precedes it. The filmmakers don't have the ambition for the over-the-top terribleness movies like this usually aim for. It's gentle and earnest, by comparison, yet its makers seem at least partially aware of their limitations. Before Trip loses that drag race, he hits a bar called the Cantina, whose neon sign is broken. All it says is C-a-n-t.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.