Speed Racer (2008)
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Speed Racer (2008)

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I have always been fascinated with the source material for films. In those golden olden days, many films came from literary works and stage plays. Now the field has been vastly broadened. Comic books, old television shows and remakes of classic films are all fair game for filmmakers. This is not even limited to just TV shows that originally aired here in the States. One such example is the live-action flick ‘Speed Race.’ The original concept was in Japanese Manga, a very popular and specific type of comic and subsequently animation. It was brought over here in the sixties with resurgence in the early nineties. The animation style of the cartoon was often stiff with still images shown. It was only a matter of time until it was made into a major motion picture and now it is out on DVD. The flick is a visual experience with a minimal plot that is more targeted towards eight-year boys with attention deficient disorder. The distributors should have just acknowledged this and places a few doses of Ritalin in the package as an extra. If you are prone to seizures from rapidly flashing images you might want to stay away or at least have a home care professional nearby during the viewing. It is not that bad a flick for the youthful target demographic but it fails to hold the attention of teens and adults. It also was released to the theater right after the mega-blockbuster hit ‘Iron Man’ which had to hurt its box office. There are sufficient fans of the TV series out there to make this a cult classic of sorts. ‘Speed Racer’ is a hyperkinetic romp of color and flashing images that will excite the younger viewers while leaving the parents and even older siblings baffled. If you can reconnect with that inner child you might find this flick interesting but overall it fails to reach its potential.

This movie was written and directed by the well known Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry. It represents a major departure from their previous films. They were, of course, responsible for the very complex ‘Matrix’ trilogy as well as the strange lesbian bondage movie ‘Bound.’ With this track record behind them it may seem very odd that the brothers would strike out with a flick geared, literally, for younger children. Their main problem here is they went for too specific an audience. If a film for such a young set of viewers you have to remember that most frequently the parents will accompany the kids to the theater. Now, in DVD it may be better received since the adults will most likely leave the room. It is a lot like some of the candy we used to have as children that were little more than colored sugar. It was great fun for the kids but adults would not be able to take it. The brothers also include a plot that is far too convoluted for the main audience can or would follow. This may have been an attempt to draw in an older crowd but it will be lost on the eight-year-olds who only want to see the cars racing and crashing. It is really doubtful if an eight-year-old is going to care for the main theme of the evils of capitalism. Thankfully, from their point of view at least, the bright colors and fast-paced action will distract them from such trivial things as a story. I have to admit that there is a bit of girl power introduced here in the character of Trixie, played for full camp value by Christina Ricci. She always seems to be the one that has to save the hero and the day. The brothers also tried their best to keep true to the original Japanese themes such as family honor and loyalty.

The Wachowski brothers have always been very visually inclined, but nothing in their previous films would prepare you for this. The colors are bright practically beyond belief. The palette is true to the usual format of a comic book with certain colors representing good and evil; blue is good but watches out for anyone in purple. They also try to recapture the style of the cartoon with still images repeating on a rapid loop. It is disconcerting to say the lease but does connect the film to the old school rendition of the characters. The cast is better than the movie deserves. Taking on a character named Speed Racer has to be difficult for any serious actor. Emile Hirsch most probably had to have a long talk with his agent before taking on this. He recently demonstrated his dramatic talents in ‘Into the Wild’ and before that, ‘Lords of Dogtown.’ Here he does the best possible job with a character that possesses little dimension. His best scenes are opposite his human co-stars such as John Goodman who plays Pop Racer and the always great Susan Sarandon as Mom. The one shining part of the flick is Ricci as the girlfriend, Trixie. She is an actress who has made it as the Indy queen for several years and has taken on a variety of roles that range from the silly to the ultra-serious.

The Racer family has always been involved in all aspects of car racing. It is a good thing they had the surname for the sport. Currently Pops and Mom run a well-known business building high-end racing vehicles. Some years ago their eldest son Rex (Scott Porter) was killed in the most grueling cross country race around, the Casa Cristo. At the time, there were a lot of talks that Rex cheated in the race thereby disgracing the honor of the family. Younger brother Speed is now 18 and starting to make a name in the sport racing the Mach 5, one of his father’s best and most technologically advanced cars. When the owner of a major corporation, Royalton (Roger Allam) offers Speed a life of fame and fortune in exchange for racing under his banner Speed is tempted but shares in his father’s mistrust of large international corporations. Royalton did not become a mogul by giving in so he informs Speed that the races are controlled by the big corporations and if Speed races as an independent he might not survive. Speed has to expose the fix and restore his family’s good name so he enlists the help of Trixie, the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) and the deceitful racer Taejo Togokhan (Rain). Sure there is more to the story, but what matters is the computer graphics are fantastic and very well integrated into the flick.

As usual, Warner Brother does their typical great job of presenting the movie. There are three variations available; widescreen, Pan & Scan, and Blu-ray. Let's forget about the full screen altogether. The colors on the widescreen are near reference quality which is absolutely necessary for a visually intense flick like this. The Dolby 5.1 audio gives a full sound stage that encircles you in your living room. There is also a set of extras that will give you every detail of the production. This is for the kids and will work for them.

Posted 08/19/08            Posted   01/28/2020

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