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Movies, especially summer blockbusters, develop, produce and then satisfy our escapist fantasies. The images they concoct can be overwhelming — too perfect bodies, exotic locations and this summer’s trademark fantasy, the sleekest modes of travel imaginable.

Movies speak to our adrenaline-starved souls. We want a piece of the fantasy action. A Happy Meal tie-in only scratches the surface. Carefully molded action figures only offer temporary pleasure. Xbox and Playstation games quickly lose their pizzazz.

Summertime blockbusters are about men — and teenagers pretending to be men — and men want “man” toys. And what’s the biggest Man Toy of them all? Cars.

Hollywood, expectably, is ready to roll.

The first wheels driven out of the studio lots belong to a group of teenage mutant heroes. Mazda partnered with Twentieth Century Fox and, more significantly, with X2: X-Men United director Bryan Singer to create the Mazda RX-8 X-Men Car, which is based on the 2004 production model Mazda RX-8.

The Mutant Blue Special Edition Mazda also features an X-shaped grille and an enlarged trademark “X” on the car’s nameplate. Mazda is heavily promoting its unique collaboration with Fox to spotlight the “starring role” the automobile has in the film.

To further boost marketing efforts, Mazda and Fox joined forces on the Web site “Welcome to X-World,” (www.mazdausa.com/MusaWeb/rx8/xmen/rx8_xmen_flash.jsp), where captions remind film fans that “Cyclops Drives It” and “Wolverine Wants It” — so obviously we must want an X-Car of our own.

Cadillac pushed the auto tie-in envelope a bit further in its efforts secure prime supporting roles in The Matrix Reloaded for the Cadillac CTS sedan and the Cadillac Escalade EXT, both featured in the film’s climactic freeway chase. The Cadillac Web site (www.cadillac.com/matrix) presents several stills from the film of the gunshot-blasted cars, giving the impression that not a single bit of the grace and sophistication of the Cadillac brand can ever be diminished by a few million rounds of heavy artillery and miles of burned rubber. There’s also the requisite behind-the-scenes exploration of the development of the link between Cadillac and The Matrix Reloaded production team.

The best use of an automobile as a functioning character in a film would have to be awarded to the Mini Cooper for its reprise role in the remake of the 1969 British caper flick, The Italian Job. BMW, the parent company and North American distributor of the Mini Cooper, has a reputation for using films to market their cars.

The most talked about example is the series of Internet short films, The Hire, featuring Clive Owen as the mysterious driver who navigates his way through highly exciting and improbable situations in a revolving cast of sleek BMWs (www.bmwfilms.com). Dynamic and inventive directors like John Woo and Joe Carnahan bring their signature styles to each story, and BMW gets thrilling promotion for their marketing dollars because every man dreams of being able to drive one of their cars.

The fascinating thing about the Mini Cooper, though, is this Hollywood dream car is well within the reach of most film fans. Italian Job stars Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron use their Mini Coopers to cart around millions of dollars in hijacked gold through the streets, sidewalks and subway tunnels of Los Angeles. The rest of us, on the other hand, can use our Mini Coopers to tool around from work or to our favorite weekend spot. Finally, an Average Joe can afford the cache of a cool Hollywood car with his Average Joe salary.

On a recent weekday morning, I pushed the fantasy pedal to the floor when I joined stunt driver Sean Graham on a Mini Cooper test drive. It was far easier than I expected to maintain my cool as Graham guided us through a series of high speed turns and hairpin stops, while also answering a few questions about the cars used in the film. There were a total of 33 Mini Coopers used during the filming and only 7 were totaled. The majority of the cars were standard models with few modifications.

Graham was quick to praise Mark Wahlberg and the other stars for their ability to handle the standard roadwork, but it was clear that the confident team of drivers and mechanics deserved the lion’s share of the credit for the bumper-to-bumper excitement. Thanks to this perfect pairing of car and driver, I had no fear that we were in any real danger. Between the Mini Cooper and Graham, I felt as if I was in the best seat in the house.

Who needs a Mutant Blue X-Car or an SUV that can survive a ride along a Matrix freeway? (tt clinkscales)