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Thursday, July 10, 2008

REVIEW - "Speed Racer" (2008)

Whether you liked the Matrix Trilogy or not you have to applaud the Wachowski Brothers visual innovation. Their visions of surreal worlds and settings have pushed special effects to places they’ve never gone. It isn’t unprofessional to say that “Speed Racer” is a very cool looking movie, thanks to the unique visual style that the Wachowskis have imagined. It’s something to be marveled at and commended for—It’s simply a shame that the same amount of care and precision didn’t go in to the rest of the film. While “Speed Racer” is fun to watch, it’s as cluttered as a movie can be due to the lack of experience the Wachowskis have in creating family films.

Speed Racer is introduced as a gifted, young racecar driver who has followed in the footsteps of his older brother—Another young driver that was killed in a race when Speed was very young. Speed’s talent is noticed by the owner of the corrupt Royalton Company who quickly tries to recruit Speed in to his arsenal of drivers. When Speed refuses, life gets tough on him and his family—That is until a mysterious hero, Racer X, hands him an offer to bring down the Royalton empire. Speed accepts the challenge which leads him in to a massive cross country battle zone and the realization that his long lost brother might still be alive.

For those who don’t know, “Speed Racer” is based on an anime series that is popular in America for being one of the first aired in the States. As such a film, it has a fan-base that would rip the creators to shreds if it weren’t accurate. From what I understand, the fan-base has greatly enjoyed the movie, so it either: A) Must be doing something right or B) The original show wasn’t that great itself. I remember seeing reruns of the show when I was a wee-lad, but I can’t recall the quality of it. What I can remember are the visuals. And if there’s anything to be praised about this film, it’s the way it looks, feels and… well… “drives.”

The effects accomplish a live action anime feel—It’s colorful, surreal, doesn’t look or sound realistic, but maintains a quality about it that makes you believe it’s real. The race/battle scenes are jaw dropping. It’s as if the cars have been equipped to do kung fu as they spin around on sharp turns, smashing other cars out of the way and leap over vehicles in front of them for a quick getaway. Because of this I really wanted to like the movie; but it’s truly a mess.

The acting is fine, especially on Matthew Fox’s part as Racer X, but the characters are engulfed in a scenario so confused as to whether or not it wants to appeal to children or adults that they just end up looking goofy. Why was it necessary for John Goodman to partake in a horrible kiddy-kung fu fight that made me cringe? “It must appeal to the younger crowd!” Is what the Wachowskis were probably thinking. But at the same time why would children find much of the films’ subject matter appealing at all. They wouldn’t.

Here’s a fine example of how the Wachowskis think: They don’t know how to put a single element in to the film that will appeal to both parent and child, so they insert separate elements that might appeal to each. For the children they have Speed’s younger brother and pet Monkey getting high on candy and overacting entire scenes that try to be comedic. These additions only appeal to the most juvenile of audiences. On the other side you have Racer X, Matthew Fox’s dark, gritty, ass kicking enigma of a character that had me wanting him on screen more than anyone. Make no mistake, Racer X is one amazing badass and he certainly made the film more enjoyable for me. He is easily the most interesting character in the movie. Many older audiences would probably agree with this. Would the kids? No, they want to see children their age act like they’re sun tanning with monkeys and get involved with infantile mischief. This is the mess of “Speed Racer.” It has so many elements littered all throughout the movie to appeal to different audiences that by the end its not sure if it’s a children’s movie, an action flick or a family film.

I’m not sure why, but a part of me really did enjoy the movie. It was fun while it lasted, but the aftertaste is pretty bad. I don’t think I want to see another “Speed Racer” movie. Though if the world must endure a sequel the Wachowskis need to find someone capable of creating something with a target audience. Stick to “The Matrix” and “V for Vendetta” guys.

*½ out of ****

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