Speed Racer

| May 12, 2008

To me, The Wachowski Brothers are as synonymous to the word ‘genius’ as they are to the phrase ‘epic failure.’ After the colossal disappointment that everyone shared after watching The Matrix Revolutions, they turned around and created the masterpiece that is V for Vendetta, one of the greatest comic-book films of all time. So my expectations were pretty high riding into this one, based solely on the fact that the Wachowskis were involved. I never really watched Speed Racer prior to the film, so going in, I really didn’t know what to expect. Based on what I thought was an excellent first trailer and a bunch of my friends saying it was going to suck, was I disappointed?
Imagine melting down a bag of Skittles, then injecting them into your veins. The result is the world created in Speed Racer, an acid trip where everything is painted with watercolors. I’ve never seen anything like it. The Wachowskis are masters at telling a story through visuals, their style is arguably one of the best in all of cinema. With Speed Racer, they have truly created a spectacle. Every scene is filled with such vibrant colors, you almost need sunglasses to watch it.
But like all movies, visuals can carry you only so far. That is where Speed Racer has a handful of problems. Unless you are a fan of the original anime TV show, you probably will be confused more than once throughout the movie. The plot starts out simple enough, with Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) trying to 
beat the ghost time of his brother, via hologram, around a popular racetrack. The event is televised and Speed does so well, he catches the eye of Royalton (Roger Allam), a greedy and evil racing tycoon who seems to own everything that deals with racing. Speed must then decide on whether to join such a huge
brand name, or stick with his family’s company, created by his Dad. The story becomes far less cloudy from here, and involves Mafioso type figures, a strange racer appropriately titled Racer X (Matthew Fox), a bunch of flashbacks, and some subplot about an investigation into Royalton.
The problem is the plot is just too big for its own good. It is like if you try to eat 12 pieces of pizza when you can only eat seven–things won’t work out very well and will eventually get messy. The flashbacks are utilized to strengthen Speed’s character, as well as his family and girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), but the rest of the many characters go undeveloped. Too much is going on, and the story moves so poorly that you will want certain scenes just to end. More than once during the film, I felt like I needed to see the source material before watching this. Racer X is poorly developed and sort of just pops up in the story, along with his entire subplot.
Another thing I was not prepared for is that the film is essentially a kid’s movie. The rating (PG) is something I didn’t really think about heading in. Much of the humor is geared towards children. Half of it works, half of it doesn’t. On a few occasions I winced because of the heavy cheese and sappy dialogue. The acting is par for a film like this, but Matthew Fox as Racer X seems to be a hit or miss, depending on the scene. His monotone delivery of lines seemed beyond puzzling to me. Some of it reminded me of Michael Madsen’s non-acting in Sin City, except it was not nearly as bad as that. I am not sure if the original Racer X was an inspiration or not, but his voice pattern just seemed weird.
The racing scenes were also hit or miss, but they got stronger as the film went on. While the opening race lacked excitement or suspense, the last one made up for it in spades. For all the story problems that this film has, the climax is excellent. The final 15 minutes are worth seeing, and it is just a shame that the rest of the film couldn’t get on track until the last lap (I know, horrible pun). The visual effects are incredible and the action sequences are somewhat solid. The musical score is definitely a step down from their previous two films, which is surprising considering the music they had in the first trailer was perfect.
In all, I was definitely let down by Speed Racer. There were scenes that were well-executed, and while it was pretty to look at and had a surprisingly effective climax, the film was just bogged down by a seriously muddled plot line. Add in the cheese factor and so-so action scenes, and you have a film that really only appeals to the die-hards, the Speed Racer fanboys. The problems can mainly be found in the script. Speed Racer is like the gorgeous blonde trying to push open a door that says pull. Both are visually stunning. And… Yep, that’s it.
Grade: 2 stars out of 5

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