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Speed Racer (2008)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ach NoNoNo!"
1 stars

Ever since it broke out the syndication limbo where it had languished for most of the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was picked up for a hugely successful run on MTV in the early 1990’s, Hollywood has been trying to bring the cult classic “Speed Racer” to the big screen--directors as varied as Julien Temple, Alfonso Cuaron and Gus Van Sant were considered for the gig and Johnny Depp was once signed on to play the lead role. However, none of these versions came to pass and while I don’t know the details of why these particular versions never came to pass, my guess is that in each case, people signed on out of an affection for a program that they remembered loving as children but when it came down to transforming it into a viable film project, it began to dawn on them that there really wasn’t much to the show that one could hang a feature-length narrative on. Virtually every episode more or less followed the same rigid template--Speed Racer would be in a big race, the bad guys would try to sabotage him somehow and he would either a.) press a button on the fabulous Mach 5 and get out of trouble in time to win or b.)get knocked unconscious and need to be rescued by girlfriend Trixie, younger brother Spritle (not to mention his pet monkey Chim-Chim) or Racer X, the mysterious masked rider who, unbeknownst to Speed (who evidently didn’t listen to the narrator, since it was mentioned at least once in every episode), was really his presumed dead older brother, in time to win--and even at only 22 minutes, they tended to wear out their welcome long before the end credits. Face it, when people think back on “Speed Racer,” all they are really remembering is the undeniably catchy theme, the kicky visual style (it was one of the progenitors of the anime movement) and the goofy dubbing in which the characters would abruptly spit out long and wildly overwritten statements in an effort to match the lip movement of the original Japanese animation.

And yet, when it was announced that the Wachowski Brothers had signed on to write and direct “Speed Racer” as their first film since winding up their landmark “Matrix” trilogy (they only wrote and produced “V for Vendetta,” although it is so virtually indistinguishable from their earlier works that it might as well be one of theirs), the initial surprise over the announcement soon gave away to intense anticipation, even from those who might not ordinarily have any interest in such a film. Yes, the notion of producing a live-action version of a half-remembered cartoon show may have sounded a little weird and the early photos and footage may have looked very weird but hey, the last time they came up with a futuristic epic with an inexplicable premise and a bizarre visual style, it resulted in a little thing called “The Matrix” and that turned out pretty well. Alas, it takes “Speed Racer” about ten minutes to complete burn through all of that anticipation and another ten to squander all the intense goodwill that they had banked from “The Matrix” (and hadn’t lost entirely with its less-successful sequels) before leaving us with another 115 minutes of noisy, infantile and franticly-paced-but-shockingly-boring mind rot that will inspire only partial epilepsy in viewers whose ages remain in the single digits and complete ennui in those who have passed the big 1-0.

Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer and as the film opens, he is the hottest young driver on the international racing circuit that is apparently the single biggest entertainment option in this particular world. Unlike nearly every other driver, who has aligned with one of the many multinational corporations that appear to be the only real ruling power, Speed races independently for his family’s team--his father, Pops Racer (John Goodman), designs the cars, mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) keeps them running, younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and pet monkey Chim-Chim offer inspiration of a certain kind, girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) offers inspiration of another kind and Mom (Susan Sarandon), based on the evidence seen here, spend her time trying to spend as much time away from the cameras as humanly possible while still retaining her star billing--and all the companies want to sign him up for their teams. The most aggressive pursuer is Royalton (Roger Allam), who tries to lure Speed to his side with the promises of uncountable riches and the most technologically advanced racing materials available. After pondering it for a bit, Speed decides to stay independent and in response, Royalton smugly announces that many of the biggest races have been fixed by the corporations in order to maximize profits and that Speed will never win a race in his lifetime--to add insult to injury, he issues a series of lawsuits against the Racer family that threatens the very existence of their team. In response, Speed agrees to aid a government probe into race fixing that is being spearheaded by the mysterious Racer X (Mathew Fox)--see paragraph 1 for the explanation of who he really is--and inevitably, this involves him somehow overcoming all the odds Royalton and his cronies throw his way and crossing the finish line of the big final race ahead of everyone else.

There is much more, of course--there is a subplot involving Speed being asked to race for a Japanese racing concern so that its lead driver (Korean pop sensation Rain) will agree to testify against the race fixers, flashbacks to the days in which older Racer brother Rex (Scott Porter) was the hottest driver around until he left under a cloud of scandal and was presumed killed in an accident during a cross-country race, plenty of conspiracy talk, the assorted antics of Spritle and Chim-Chim (cue the flinging of the monkey-poop) and even a trip to Inspiration Point for Speed and Trixie that manages to remain well within the boundaries of the PG rating--but for the most part, the film consists of one scene after another in which our hero is skidding his way through bizarrely designed racetracks while cars flip and crash all around him and the other actors are doing their best to convey some sense of awe, excitement and/or fear at whatever future special effects they are supposedly looking at. For maybe the first reel or so, this stuff is kind of neat--once again, the Wachowskis have plunged us into a world that we haven’t seen before in a live-action film and the gaudy visuals and whiplash editing do provoke some giddy vertiginous thrills that do provide an undeniable rush for viewers. However, instead of trying to top themselves as the film progresses with newer and wilder ideas, the Wachowskis have inexplicably decided to simply repeat the thrills of the opening scene over and over again for 135 minutes and it quickly grows monotonous. Furthermore, since the laws of gravity, perpetual motion and common sense don’t seem to apply to the races that we see, these scenes never generate any real tension or excitement--how can the film expect you to care about the dangers inherent to the various races when it seems to go out of its way to show us that there are no dire consequences to anything that we see?--to the point where even the most jacked-up adrenaline junkies may find themselves checking their watches at least twice, once to see how much time is left in the movie and once to make sure that their watches aren’t on the fritz/

Since the visuals lose their luster fairly quickly, the emphasis winds up shifting by default to the screenplay that the Wachowskis have cooked up and this is the area in which the film really stumbles. Ever since it was announced that this film was going to be aimed squarely at family audiences instead of the slightly older viewers that flocked to “The Matrix” and “V for Vendetta,” people have been wondering how their unique storytelling approach might fare within the more restrictive confines of a family-oriented film. It is an interesting question, I suppose, but based on the evidence here, the answer is a decisive “Not very well.” Instead of trying to make a film that could appeal equally to viewers of all ages (along the lines of “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or the later “Harry Potter” films), they have instead set their sights almost exclusively on eight-year-old viewers and no one else--everything is brightly colored to the point of garishness, every plot point is repeated over and over until even the slowest learners in the audience are up to speed and Spritle and Chim-Chim, who were basically the Jar-Jar Binks’ of their day, are given far more screen time than even their most indulgent fans might find endurable. Perhaps realizing belatedly that they had made a movie that would only really appeal to the juice-box market, the Wachowskis have attempted to goose things up with lots of talk about vast conspiracies (including a new reason for Rex Racer abandoning his family all those years ago) and corporate greed but these additions cause more problems than they wind up solving--the conspiracy stuff quickly grows so confusing that nearly every kid in the audience (not to mention many adults) will be left scratching their heads and all the stuff about the horrid nature of corporate greed and “the unassailable might of money” is a little hard to swallow when you consider all the various tie-in products that are now available to purchase at a store near you.

“Speed Racer” does have a couple of momentary pleasures--the opening sequence is pretty neat (until it begins to dawn on you that the entire film is going to be like that), the increasingly invaluable Michael Giacchino contributes a reasonably nifty score that finds amusing ways of working the classic “Speed Racer” theme into its various melodies (though it is nowhere near as impressive as the suite he did for “Cloverfield,” which is now available on iTunes and which should be downloaded immediately) and while she doesn’t really have much of anything to do, Christina Ricci looks simply incredible as Trixie--she really does look like an anime heroine come to life (and I mean that as a compliment). Other than that, the film is an overlong and unbelievable draggy debacle that is little more than “Rollerball” for four-year-olds with ADD. As far as I can tell, its only redeeming facet is that with its release, we have already gotten what I can only hope and pray is the biggest disappointment of this summer’s box-office derby out of the way earlier than usual. I am certain that some easily swayed viewers will argue that “Speed Racer” is nothing more than eye candy--if that is indeed the case, then it is the cinematic equivalent of those cut-rate sweets that the smarter kids would either palm off on unsuspecting younger siblings or simply dump in the trash altogether rather that try to swallow them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17083&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/09/08 00:03:17
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User Comments

2/04/11 Roy Smith A fist wrapped in glow ropes pounding a human face forever. 1 stars
12/18/10 chaotik tom Worst special effects than Mary Poppins, and that was made 50 years ago! 2 stars
9/25/10 matt actually pretty good 4 stars
9/22/08 The Anti-Douche This film has cult written all over--it's so post-post. 5 stars
9/20/08 Steven James Parker Well I saw it just for Christina! The movie has his moments. Some cheesy ones and some good 3 stars
7/05/08 Samantha Pruitt saw it in IMAX, thought it was like an acid trip, that's a good thing 5 stars
5/25/08 George Barksdale we didn't like it 1 stars
5/17/08 Ty, The MOVIE REPORTER If you sat middle beyond from screen, I'm not surprised you didn't like it. Sit closer! 5 stars
5/14/08 sucker Only saw the previews; I think I'll rather wait for the video game 1 stars
5/14/08 --- My 4 yr old nice actually said "do we have to stay for the whole movie?" SUCKED. 1 stars
5/13/08 Random The Wachowski's pulchritudinous spectacle proves them visionary, yet juvenile. 4 stars
5/12/08 Noexit Movie perfectly captured the original cartoon series. 5 stars
5/11/08 Phil Buckley-Mellor The worst film I have seen in 40 years, all involved should be ashamed 1 stars
5/11/08 Nathan Explosion This film made me sad because so many people died of brain aneurysms while watching it 1 stars
5/11/08 Peppercorn Tabernacle This horrible movie made me fart through my penis hole. 1 stars
5/11/08 Blackbrain 5 years ahead of it's time. If you don't like it, your too old. 5 stars
5/10/08 Brian Mckay Everything I loved (and hated) about the cartoon. If you didn't grow up watching, don't go. 4 stars
5/09/08 Darkstar Holy shit this movie sucks!!!!!!!! It's a cool idea, just poorly executed. Very, very bad 1 stars
5/09/08 damalc would have liked more over-the-top acting to match racing sequences 3 stars
5/09/08 brad don't leave the acid at home. better grab the mescaline too. 5 stars
5/09/08 DickPeterJohnson I need to screw Christina Ricci's smelly tushy! 1 stars
5/09/08 Adrian Watch it on psychedelic drugs. Trust me. 5 stars
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  09-May-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2008


  DVD: 16-Sep-2008

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