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.