By Jeff Labrecque
Updated February 15, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

”Shoot, coward. You’re only going to kill a man.” In the opening scenes of The Motorcycle Diaries, there’s little trace of the rebel who reputedly said those defiant last words to his Bolivian executioner. In 1952, young med student Ernesto ”Che” Guevara (Gael García Bernal) still believes a puppy can help him win a woman’s love. But middle-class naïveté gives way to world-weary fortitude when Ernesto — equal parts Tom Joad and Huck Finn — witnesses hardship and injustice along an eight-month, 8,000-mile journey on a dilapidated motorcycle. The film starts slow, but Bernal’s charisma illuminates the defining moment when Ernesto’s idealism and Che’s outrage merged.

EXTRAS In an interview, Che’s travel companion, Alberto (played in the film by an impish Rodrigo de la Serna), now in his 80s, shares his affection for his decrepit Norton 500 motorcycle, despite the 50 or so spills he endured on it. His reflections are especially welcome, as the other features skimp on historical perspective in favor of glorifying Bernal’s performance. The moral: Better to play a martyr than to be one.