- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
tuck in development hell for over a decade, “Speed Racer” certainly isn’t the first TV-to-film adaptation to sound like a complete disaster from the get-go, but it takes the cake as the most over-hyped of the bunch. Much has been made of the Wachowskis’ return to the director’s chair, but what exactly have they done to earn such admiration and respect? Sure, they’re responsible for “The Matrix” (as well as its two subpar sequels), but that’s about the extent of their experience behind the camera, and it shows in their latest film, a nonsensical kaleidoscope of bright lights, candy-colored sets, and campy dialogue that, while not quite the seizure-inducing nightmare that many were expecting, will still cause its share of physical exhaustion and minor headaches when all is said and done.
Based on the 1960s Japanese import of the same name, “Speed Racer” stars Emile Hirsch as the title character, the latest superstar in a family of racing protégés. It’s been eight years since his older brother Rex (Scott Porter) was killed in a cross-country rally race, and Speed has finally come into his own as the next big thing. His latest victory has brought countless offers from corporate sponsors, but none as impressive (or lucrative) as the one from Royalton Industries. When Speed politely declines, however, Royalton’s money-hungry owner (Roger Allam) does everything in his power to destroy Speed’s future – including his career and his father’s (John Goodman) mom-and-pops racing company. Determined to exploit Royalton’s profit-boosting business methods, Speed teams up with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to win the race that took his brother’s life and gain entry into the annual Grand Prix.
There’s a lot to admire about a film like “Speed Racer,” but there’s just as much to criticize. The movie is fun to look at, but the childlike awe only lasts for so long. It takes a lot more than neon-colored special effects to make a movie interesting, and though the story has some great ideas, they’re presented in the sloppiest manner possible. The opening scene is the perfect example of the Wachowskis trying to do too much at once – not only do they juxtapose two races on top of one another, but they use wash edits to introduce virtually every main character via mini-flashbacks – and it only goes to prove that while the brothers are technically competent, they simply aren’t talented enough to construct a movie with some sense of order.
This flip-flop editing technique is used several times throughout the course of the film, jumping back and forth between the action on the track and various subplots that are being developed on the side. When you combine that with its 129-minute runtime and extremely complicated premise (at one point, Royalton goes into a dizzying, five-minute monologue about how fixed races affect the stock market), you really have to wonder how the Wachowskis ever considered “Speed Racer” a family film. The kid-friendly moments (i.e. every scene involving Spritle and Chim Chim) feel forced, as if they were included strictly to prevent the movie from being taken too seriously, when in fact they could have easily been removed in exchange for a much shorter runtime. If this really were supposed to be a kid’s movie, the Wachowskis would have been more concerned with their target audience falling asleep than with ramping up the PG material just for the sake of being goofy.
If there’s one thing the Wachowskis did right (aside from the visual effects, of course), it’s casting the film. The Racer family is spot-on – both Susan Sarandon (as Speed’s mom) and Christina Ricci (as Speed’s girlfriend Trixie) actually look like anime characters – while Matthew Fox pulls off the potentially ridiculous Racer X surprisingly well. Even Emile Hirsch, who appears to have subscribed to the Nicolas Cage School of Overacting, gets the job done, while Korean pop star Rain delivers a better-than-expected debut as fellow racer Taejo Togokhan.
Unlike most special effects-driven movies, however, the actors are nothing more than props, and while the Wachowskis’ kinetic visual style totally makes sense in the realm of the source material, they rely on it far too often to power their story. The director siblings should definitely be applauded for taking on such a daunting project, but not even their visual wizardry is enough to save “Speed Racer” from feeling like the most mediocre summer movie experience you’ve ever had.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
One has to imagine that the Wachowzski’s had something a little more special planned for the DVD release of “Speed Racer,” but following the film’s massive box office flop, Warner Bros. seriously dialed it down. The only extras you’re going to find on the single-disc set is a set tour with Paulie Litt (“Sprittle in the Big Leagues”) and a short featurette on the film’s cars (“Speed Racer: Supercharged”). Oddly enough, the DVD also comes with a digital copy of the film, but instead of including it on the disc, you have to send away for it in the mail. Talk about cutting costs.