Speed Racer

by Ian T. McFarland on May 9, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Speed Racer
  • IMDB: link

speed-racer-poster

I’m always looking for reasons to love the Wachowskis.  I am one of the few and faithful who have stuck with the Matrix through all of its sequels, and still love it.  But then V For Vendetta came along, and if you know how I reacted to it, then you know that my faith in the duo was thrown into doubt.  With all that in mind, I was excited for Speed Racer – a silly cartoon adaptation that couldn’t be bogged down by politics or philosophy, all it had to do was be superficially awesome.  If the Wachowskis could pull this one off, it might finally justify my love for the writer/directors.  Did I find that validation?

Nope.

We join our titular character (Emile Hirsch in a role far beneath him) in a flashback, to witness the rise and fall of his older brother Rex Racer, who sold out and died in a mysterious racing accident (he totally doesn’t come back as the mysterious-er Racer X, by the way).  Once we jump to the present, which is like a fantasy twist on the near future with more bright colors than a gay pride flag, Speed declines to join the biggest name in the sport, Royalton Racing, so that he can win on his own.  But the company’s namesake, Royalton (played by an entertainingly evil Roger Allam), believes that if Speed isn’t with him, he’s against him; prompting the stinkin’ rich businessman to use his connections to keep the young Racer out of any races –

– that is, I think.  The first forty minutes are fairly clear; but after that, the editing quickens and important story elements are glossed over by secondary characters with more haste that Speed commands in the powerful Mach 5.

This proves to be Speed Racer‘s biggest problem – it’s all zippy glitz and no concern over the story.

It’s clear that the Wachowskis only wanted to make a movie for the seven year-old boy in all of us, and by all means, they totally ace the movie in this regard.  It’s fast, it’s got every hue visible to the human eye and it’s got more potential for merchandising than is good for a movie.  The races are so absurd they make MarioKart look like Formula One – the cars jump and whirl through tracks that resemble a hundred boxes of Mouse Trap jumbled together.  It is, by most definitions, awesome.  But it’s too much too fast, and likely won’t make it past your short-term memory.

The actors do what they can with the material, but there’s just not a lot of room for their input in the film.  Take Christina Ricci as Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend.  She might be an old-school, glamorous Hollywood starlet in the role; but with the Wachowskis’ script, we can never tell.  Ricci’s never given a moment to experiment, all she can do is show up and say her lines.  For what the character is, Ricci is great; it’s just that the character isn’t much more than a one-sided girl who’s only purpose is to support the leading man.

It’s one thing to have a film that cares primarily about style, it’s a completely different thing to not care about anything else.  Without implanting concern and worry over the characters into the audience, it’s just a 130-minute display of bright colors that spin off the screen too fast.

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