Saturday, June 27, 2009

Go Speed Racer Go... and Keep Going

Some movies rely soley on effects, with a story tossed in there… this was a problem that plagued the last three Star Wars films, and, coincidentally, the 2nd and 3rd Matrix films, directed by The Wachowski Brothers.

This is the problem that prevents “Speed Racer” from being a pretty good movie. First, and hear me on this, the visuals in this movie are spectacular. Perhaps overly so. In fact, its one of the few movies I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t see in the theater and not because I didn’t want to pay the 8 or 9 bucks for the ticket.

When you were a kid, did you ever play with the television menu? You know, moving the little dials on contrast and tint and such, and do it so the color almost screams at you obnoxiously? I wouldn’t bet against some kid doing this to “Speed Racer” while it was in final production. The racing scenes are glorious, a sensory beatdown for your eyes that feels as if just before shipping the film to theaters, they tossed in a box of primary color Crayolas and shook the can vigorously.

This is a live action still shot. Imagine this color being blasted over a fifty foot screen.

The Wachowski Brothers are known for their movie techno prowess, being the directors who created the visuals of the character jumping in slow motion, the camera spinning wildly in a circle and then everything coming back to normal speed as the character does the punch and kick. We first saw this when Neo did it in “The Matrix”, on all accounts one of the most amazing films to ever experience for the first time, and we’ve seen it a thousand times in other films, be it a rip-off or a parody.

In saying all of this, I can totally appreciate what The Wachowski Brothers are trying to do here. They want to make a family film that can not only be enjoyed by kids and adults, but also set another bar for how g ood a film like this can be. The problem is, I can truly see how kids would be dazzled by the colors and scenes, but it moves so fast and blurry that they would be lost. I can also see how adults, unless truly focused on this film, would be lost in the storyline and not care enough to figure it out.

It boasts a decent cast, including Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as Speed’s parents and Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer. Two casting decisions left me cringing, though, one being Christina Ricci as Trixie, Speedy’s girlfriend. I’ve never been a huge fan of Christina Ricci, and here she looks… well, she just looks frail and ghastly. While that one is more a personal preference, the other cringe casting is Matthew Fox as fellow driver Racer X. At first I was thinking that it was just I could only see him as Jack from LOST and couldn’t picture him in anything else… but the more I watched it, the more I realized he just doesn’t fit. He looks out of place, he looks like he’s having a miserable time, he looks like he’s just truly mailing it in.

Poor Matthew Fox.... pretty good in "Vantage Point", pretty decent in "We Are Marshall", a square peg in a round hole in "Speed Racer"

All in all, “Speed Racer” is one of those films that if you are flipping channels and come across it, especially in HD, you should take a few minutes, soak it in, enjoy the color and sight and splendor of it all. Then go find something like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, my 29th favorite film of all time, a movie that finds its color, sight and splendor in its characters and in telling its funny, sweet story.


  1. "the camera spinning wildly in a circle and then everything coming back to normal speed as the character does the punch and kick. We first saw this when Neo did it in “The Matrix”,'

    Wrong. If you'd actually ever watched an episode of Speed Racer, you'd have seen this very thing in the opening credits. (FYI: The anime was released in the US in 1967.) If you're curious, the opening credits to the anime can be found on YouTube.

    As far as your review goes, it just follows the same old line that the sheep bleated last year. Many of these same "critics" admitted that they weren't familiar with the source material.

  2. Oh, I guess you liked it, then. I knew those $48 dollars it made at the box office had to come from somewhere... =)

  3. I disagree with your review, finding this to be one of the best, most entertaining and fun films of last year.

    I should add: my three younglings loved it and very much understood most of the film's nuances. Even my wife enjoyed it, and she's not a fan of action films. None of them found the cut scenes and color palettes difficult to follow or enjoy.
    I think you were a little quick to judge what other viewers can savor in relation to your own tastes and scope. To attack it for being too colorful?
    Wouldn't that be as simplistic as saying oranges are fine and apples are great, but NO ONE will understand the madness which is Tangerines? Crazy stuff I know.. lol... just sounds like a rather biased statement. But hey - it is your blog, do as you will.

    There will always be Transformers and other fare which are far less ambitious or rewarding. Please note the difference between an underdog with good intentions, vs those of the low down, dirty variety.

    Racer for the win.

    Thank you.

  4. Good thoughts... hey, I just said it was a little much for me personally. I gave the Wachowski's some credit, though, I knew they were trying to make a really good, innovative film... for me, personally, I just didn't dig it. Its not a horrible film, in fact, I don't think its necessarily a bad film... just not one I would watch again.

    And I saw Transformers this weekend... in the same way that "Key Largo" is a better film than say, "Employee of the Month", I would say that "Speed Racer" is a better made and more ambitious film than "Transformers".

    I'm just happy you came to the blog and commented.


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