Go Speed Racer! Spoiler-free Review

May 10, 2008 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Coming on the heels of Marvel and Paramount’s Iron Man, the Wachowski Bros.’ directorial follow-up to The Matrix Trilogy is a loud, fast, and colorful extravaganza aimed at kids and the young adults that grew up watching reruns of the Speed Racer anime on TV (like myself). If you keep your expectations low, this summer movie may just surprise you.

The movie starts with a bit of a flashback scene as we see a young Speed Racer being distracted in grade school and hanging out with his older brother, Rex Racer (Mathew Fox). Their whole family is in the racing biz, with their dad, Pops (John Goodman), building and maintaining the family race car, the Mach 5. Rounding out the Racer family is Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon), mechanic and spotter Sparky (Kick Gurry), Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his monkey Chim-Chim, and the always-beautiful Trixie (Christina Ricci).

Soon enough, the villain appears in the form of Royalton (Roger Allam), a billionaire businessman with a hobby of collecting the best race car drivers in the world. He wants Speed (Emile Hirsch) to sign a contract with him, while also allowing his family to come and work for the company. Here’s where the subtext of the movie comes in. The whole story is more about corporate greed and the evils of big business taking over the little guy. The plot then gets a bit muddled with the inclusion of a rival Japanese company and another racer (played by Korean pop phenomenon Rain). On the Filmspotting podcast, the two reviewers mention that the corporate stuff is probably more interesting than all the racing, and I have to agree…slightly. The Wachowski Bros. are trying to infuse some deeper meaning for the adult audience, but then it starts clashing with the candy-colored, seizure-inducing special effects that are obviously meant for ten-year-olds with attention spans shorter than three seconds.

Still, for slightly older viewers in their twenties that remember the original show, the movie is a bit smarter than it should have been. In the theatre I was in, there was a man sleeping a few rows in front; sleeping so soundly he started snoring. Loudly. That just proves that the story does get a little too heavy-handed at parts to really keep some people interested, and there are only three major racing scenes in this whole movie. That isn’t to say that there’s a lack of special effects. The entire movie was shot in front of a green screen, even simple shots like exteriors with characters driving down the street. The movie apparently takes place in the near future (Royalton claims to have been tinkering with his Commodore 64 during his early childhood, so that puts this movie about fifty or so years from now), but it’s not like there are flying cars everywhere. For the most part, this isn’t too distracting once you get about 20 minutes in, and I know this movie will looks absolutely incredible on Blu-Ray and even DVD (provided your player is running on at least component cables). Cinematographer David Tattersall lensed the previous 3 Star Wars prequels, the last two of which were shot in HD, so this guy knows how to photograph a movie in hi-def.

One of the biggest faults of the movie, one that I will have to knock some points for, is the length. It’s more than two hours long, which is about 20 minutes too long. There are some unnecessary scenes with Spritle and Chim-Chim that could have been trimmed or cut, and that would’ve saved it about 5 minutes. While I’m on the subject of Spritle and the monkey, there is a hilarious sequence during a hotel fight scene that’s only funny if you watched the beginning where you see the two watching TV. Anyway, I’m just saying that Spritle and Chim-Chim are only mildly funny for the kiddies, but even adults may get a chuckle or two out of them.

If you find yourself wondering what movie to see this weekend, go see Iron Man, there’s enough there for kids and adults. However, Speed Racer isn’t as bad as all the critics make it out to be. If you were a fan of the show, go find some similar-minded friends and sit back and enjoy the pretty colors (and Christina Ricci) for about two hours.

7.5/10

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