Starring: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox
Director: Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski
Release Date: May 9, 2008
Running Time: 135 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Leading up to this weekend, I could not think of one reason of pertinence that would justify making Speed Racer into a feature film besides the obvious exploitation of existing media for financial gain. I had every reason to dislike this film. Larry and Andy Wachowski, the forces behind a couple of little indie films, Bound and The Matrix have some s’plainin’ to do. Since being widely and rightfully accused of ruining The Matrix franchise, they have not stepped foot behind the camera. I would call this a good thing.
Speed Racer is more than just a movie by the Wachowski Brothers; it is their attempt at reinvention and they want to make a statement. What that statement is, for sure, is unclear. Do they want to be once again taken seriously, or do they want something that will put a middle finger in anyone’s face that questions their path? Either way adapting an anime series with a cult following is a curious choice of material. But dig a little deeper and it’s not as much of a leap as you’d think. Look at their directorial efforts – Bound, The Matrix Trilogy, and now Speed Racer. All pretty different movies, but thematically they have a common thread: the observation of the traps people make of their lives and the reveal of their eventual transformation. Basic stuff, I know, but it becomes interesting when you consider that their career is starting to become molded to that same theme. Speed Racer is the Wachowski’s warm embrace of that idea.
But I am getting off track.
You’ve seen the trailer and the TV spots, so for me to say that this movie is a live-action cartoon is redundant, so I’ll put it another way. Let’s say Tron and Willy Wonka (the original) had a kid and that kid got so high while watching Pink Floyd The Wall that he ate a dozen lava lamps and threw up all over The Flintstones and the drug scenes in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; the result would be Speed Racer. It is a colorfully vibrant and trippy mess. That’s the good news. The bad news is, at best the plot is a throwaway Afterschool Special of the week. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is a talented young racecar driver who wants to avenge the death of his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter) by winning The Casa Cristo – the same race that took his brothers life years earlier. His race team is a mom-and-pop operation ran by his parents, er… Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pop (John Goodman). Along the way the owner of Royalton Industries, a leading top dollar operation, makes Speed an offer too good to be true. Too loyal to the family business, he rejects the offer from Royalton (Roger Allman) and soon uncovers some trade secrets, nefarious in nature, such as race fixing and cheating for financial gain. And blah blah blah, Racer X (Matthew Fox)… blah blah “I’ll show you”… blah blah “Go Speed Racer Go!”, blah. In other words, corporations are bad, winners never cheat and cheaters never win, the end. In even fewer words, you wont see this movie for its plot.
The visuals are the only thing worth seeing, which begs the question; is it possible for technological style to outrun a bad script? This question isn’t new ground for the Wachowski’s after Matrix Revolutions, but the answer Speed Racer provides is… almost. Watching this movie is like walking into a dark room from the outside – you have to give it a second and let your eyes adjust before you really see anything clearly. This is good because the first half of the movie sucks and is better left unseen. The second half is, how do you say, bad ass. The racing scenes are very well put together, edited even better and a ton of fun to watch.
All in all, this is a kids movie. Nothing more or less. I don’t buy into the anti-capitalist campaign some people attempted to mount against the film any more than I believe this is the filmmakers death rattle. I will say this, the brothers Wachowski swung for the fence, and they almost made it this time. They no doubt have talent when it comes to technological achievements on screen. Visually, their flair for the dramatic and style are unequalled. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to get back to their roots and write a compelling story that will compliment their visual style.
In a movie whose main villain is a corrupt business man who practices dirty politics, I wonder if it is simply a matter of chance that he bears a striking resemblance Al Gore; a man who just happened to have lost out on the U.S. presidency at the hands of a corrupt business man who practices dirty politics. Just as much as I wonder if it is a matter of chance that a movie whose bare-bones message of “cheaters never win” came out mere months after the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl after being accused of cheating and barreling through previous championship games and this years regular season undefeated.
Save your commentary to either one of those previous statements based of your own personal beliefs – they were simple observations. Maybe I am putting too much thought into this. Hell, I can barely decide if I even liked the movie. Or as I described it to a friend:
I don’t know if it was any good or not, but parts of it were really cool.
And there’s the rub.
** 1/2 out of ****