REVIEW: “Speed Racer”

Posted: May 12, 2008 by V in Review
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(“Speed Racer”, simultaneously a great icon of 60s animation, while a not-so-great icon of quality in animation history. For a movie based on a cartoon made in the sixties about a boy who races cars to change the world and save his family, I’d say this film adaptation is damn good. Given the original material, “Speed Racer” far exceeded expectations. I saw it twice. -v)

The black sheep of the long awaited summer movies, “Speed Racer” was immediately delegated to the smaller theatre, I refuse to speculate. To these reasons I say, “Pish!” and take exception to their claims of a “silly plot” and “excessive CG”. For those of us who remember the “Speed Racer” cartoon, which was little more than rapid voice-overs of colored line art shown on the TV quickly, the movie “Speed Racer” will knock your socks off. For those of you who actually remember the plot, this plot is true, quality, story telling compared to the conflicts that faced the old Speed Racer. In short, I had a ripping good time. Also, a vivid impression of what an LSD trip would be like.

check out the shiny
“Speed Racer” is a movie that gives off the impression of viewing a fifties town designed by Apple through a day-glo kaleidescope. Futuristically retro, this movie is like a live action “The Jetsons” meets “Mario Kart” (for those who know of “Cutie Honey” the movie, please add it to this equation). Intensely saturated colors and curiously sixties furniture and hair labor to reinforce the impression. And it works! Other than the ludicrous technology applied to anything involving race cars, the bold stamp of the Golden Age bleeds all over the film; this is a good thing. I just can’t see a modernized version of “Speed Racer” working. Part of its appeal is the silly retro junk that is taken at face value simply because of its blast-from-the-past impression.

If someone had to make “Speed Racer” into a movie, I’m glad it was these guys. I doubt anyone other than Lucas would have put so much into the unnecessary visual effects that make this movie wondrous. No matter what critics who never saw “Speed Racer” say, this movie reflected the spirit of the original show — which was never very good by any standard of measurement, but was always fun to watch anyway. You just didn’t tell anyone, ’cause it marked you as a dork. The movie promises to continue this proud tradition.

It opens with young Speed, the standard education failure. Rex Racer, the older brother is introduced as the epitome of older brotherhood. He is Speed’s hero, best friend, and tutor in all things vehicular all rolled up into one. As of yet undisclosed tragedy takes him out of the picture early on. The Racer family is a tight knit group, firmly grounded in ultimate religion of cars and racing. Pops Racer designs and builds (surprise!) Racer Motors race cars; and Speed (now following in his brother Rex’s tire burns) drives them, and how. Kudos go to the casting staff who brought in actors that fit the roles just right.

Capitalist evil strikes in the form of Royalton Industries who attempt to get Speed to sign on with them. Refusing the offer angers Royalton into a long and convoluted diatribe that even I was hard put to follow. Given the target demographic for this film was, youngish, unless average grade schoolers interested in fast cars and explosions also happen to be really into business economics, I would say this entire segment will go clean over their heads. The gist is that all the big races are rigged, and Royalton is going to make sure Speed and the Racer family regret this decision. Commence foul play!

Royalton’s threats come true as he spares no effort in ensuring his opponents (Speed and Taejo) never make it to the finish in the Fuji race, by hook and crook — mostly crook. Failing to qualify for the Grand Prix, Speed teams up with Taejo and mysterious Racer X for a chance to take Royalton down. Entering in the Casa Cristo semi-legal team rally, the three face off with the dirtiest racers in the league, many of them in the RI pocketbook, for a chance at the Grand Prix. Also, dirt that could convict Royalton for anyone still following the economic-political back story.

Final score: 3 1/2 out of five bullets. Blatant flaunting of physics! Kung fu stunt cars! Cars that break 400km! Hilariously themed rooms, costumes, teams! Speed lines! Unexplained human kung fu! Bewilderingly quick cuts, rampant abuse of green screens, cartoon-y edit cuts, neon colors, and kitchy sound effects. This movie is a shameless display of the stuff that made cartoons great. I loved it.

Although “Speed Racer” sags a little in the middle with inspirational conversation and makes the grotesque error of allowing kid and chimp comedy, it makes up for it with the races. This movie is firmly in the camp of: If a movie is about racing cars, then it should not skimp on the part where there are cars, racing. In four races, it has made sure to package all the head rush of cars going really, really fast, PLUS the added excitement of technology granting the power of acrobatics to automobiles. Oodles of money thrown into effects also helps.

Besides the standard jumpjack (a spring stand that pops out of the chasis of the vehicle allowing it to jump/flip, you will gasp at the ingenuity), dirty racing allows for all manner of cheating tricks including: tire spikes, spear hooks, oil slicks, a train of maces, and a cannon that shoots snakes. The same technology allows for for the PG rating, all drivers are encased in a bouncy foam before vehicle destruction and are safely out of the running without fatality. Therefore, cars still explode. Lots of cars explode.

It seems the main thing that holds “Speed Racer” down is that the Wachowski Brothers directed it. Yes, everything they’ve done since the first “Matrix” was a waste of money, but the unassailable “NEVER AGAIN” fervor of the anti-Wachowski but otherwise easily entertained, seems rather petty. There are plenty of reasons one could make up to not see this film. Just make one up that doesn’t found the entire argument on the Wachowskis. Hmm…That didn’t come out too supportive, but really, if you were prepared to watch a live action remake of “Speed Racer” under any circumstances, the directing really oughtn’t phase you that much.

I thought it was exhilarating. It was like eating candy and downing espresso on a roller coaster for an afternoon. Keep an eye out for Emile Hirsch’s “ARRG! I’m driving!” face.

  1. patrick says:

    The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer… the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard

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