Speed Racer

starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox and John Goodman
written & directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language.

In the dangerous, cut-throat, glamorous world of racing, young Speed Racer (Hirsch) is well on his way to becoming the sport’s newest superstar. But when he refuses to sell-out his family’s independent motor company by signing with a big corporate sponsor, he makes some powerful enemies. Now he’ll have to race as he never has before, not just to win, but to survive!

In the spring of 1999, all eyes were focused on Star Wars: Episode I as the blockbuster of the upcoming summer. Then, at the very end of March, another movie appeared out of nowhere and made off with all that box-office thunder. That film was The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, and (like the original Star Wars before it) it was followed by two successful sequels. Today, nine years later, as I sat in a theater and watched the latest Wachowski project assault the screen like a computer-generated, LSD-fueled Skittles commercial designed by a first-grader with ADD, I suddenly realized something: The Wachowskis are following the career trajectory of George Lucas, and in less than half the time.

Now, that probably makes it sound like a dismal failure which I hated sitting through. That’s not quite right. When I was a kid, I watched and enjoyed the original Speed Racer cartoons. This genuinely felt like a live-action version of one of those cartoons. Probably the biggest difference was that those cartoons were only half an hour long. This was 135 minutes. That is at least half an hour too long, and I really felt it. Speed Racer drags hopelessly in its quieter moments, futilely trying to develop characters. I can only imagine how painful those scenes were for the younger audience. The showing I was in had more than one small child getting noisy during the downtime, and I was so unengaged by what was going on that I simply didn’t care.

Speaking of that younger audience, Speed Racer is, in fact, rated PG. It’s a pretty beefy PG, but the filmmakers obviously went to a great deal of trouble to keep it that way, even going so far as to literally bleep some profanity. Right about when that happened, it suddenly occurred to me that, although most parents these days will apparently take their kids to see just about anything, a movie like this simply cannot risk alienating the six-year old audience.

Overall, the movie is a mess. It just couldn’t decide what it wanted to be: a special-effects extravaganza, a kid’s movie, a serious thriller or something to watch while you’re high. The lack of consistency kills the experience, but Speed Racer is not without its moments. In particular, the racing sequences are amazing. They are gorgeous and thrilling and simply a lot of fun to watch. If the long portions in-between races were better, the result might have really been something. Be warned, though, the climax of the final race is positively blinding. I think it might have actually burned my retinas, and I felt that if I looked around I might see other members of the audience having seizures on the floor and the projector smoking and shooting sparks. On the basis of that scene alone, this movie should come with one of those warnings to pregnant women and people with heart conditions and weak stomachs.

The cast is actually quite decent (with the possible exception of Spritle and Chim Chim, but they were horrifically annoying in the cartoon, as well) and they are obviously having a good time. I was especially surprised by John Goodman, who is excellent as Pops. He also gets some of the best lines. At one point, the family is attacked by ninjas (Ninjas?!), but these are terrible, terrible ninjas. After they are (easily) defeated, Trixie (Ricci) asks, “Was that a ninja?” Pops replies, “More like a non-ja. It’s ridiculous what passes for a ninja these days.”

The bottom line is, if you ever enjoyed the Speed Racer cartoons, or if you are between the ages of about five and eleven, you might want to give the movie a shot. Otherwise it’s probably best to stay far, far away. Still, for what it’s worth, Speed Racer is better than The Matrix Revolutions.

~ by Jared on May 9, 2008.

4 Responses to “Speed Racer”

  1. “like a computer-generated, LSD-fueled Skittles commercial designed by a first-grader with ADD”

    This is one of the most vivid descriptions I have ever read, and I find it highly amusing to boot. Well done, sir.


  2. I loathed Speed Racer as a child. Perhaps that was a foreshadowing of my dislike of Nascar.

    “It just couldn’t decide what it wanted to be”

    Isn’t that true of all of the Wachowski movies? I mean, seriously. Those two need to learn a movie can’t be all things to all people.


  3. This film was incredible; far above and beyond my expectations and a far more mature adaptation than I had anticipated (minus the Spritle/Chim-Chim moments which were appropriately childish). The Wachowskis did a great job of playing the film as something both children and adults could enjoy and I’m quite bamboozled by the hatred being leveled at this film. It pretends to be nothing more than what it is: a 21st century update of the original ’60s cartoon, and it does a whale of a good job at that. You can see and feel the Wachowskis’ love for the cartoon in every frame of this picture and I’m very sad for people who didn’t have as much fun watching it as I and my friends did.

    This is also coming from a guy who greatly enjoys George Lucas’ much reviled Star Wars prequels though… perhaps I’m just a hopeless optimist when it comes to movies and far prefer to see the GOOD in every film rather than nit-pick the bad… unless we’re talking scores. I will absolutely nit-pick a bad film score… like Iron Man. I’m afraid I will never forgive Ramin Djawadi for that dripping compositional garbage.

    Speed Racer, however, features a phenomenol film score my Michael Giacchino that manages to take the film up a few notches. A great film score can make even a mediocre film watchable for me… a lousy film score can make even a great film completely unbearable (aka Pirates of the Caribbean).

    In any event, I say: Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer, GOOOOOOOO!


  4. I think I can agree with most of that assessment. I’d say I had at least 2/3 of a good time, and honestly, when it was over, I thought to myself that I’d be quite willing to see it again if I had anyone to see it with. But I don’t. Oh, and I loved the medley of Speed Racer theme music that played over the final credits.


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