"Speed Racer" veers off course

May 17, 2008, midnight | By Sean Howard | 14 years ago

Lack of originality sends family flick throttling in reverse

From the directors that brought you the Matrix trilogy comes "Speed Racer." The Wachowskis direct this live action film adaptation of the 1960s Japanese anime "Speed Racer" and achieve sub-par results.

The story revolves around a young man with natural racing instincts, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), striving to win The Casa Cristo, a cross-country car racing rally that took the life of his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter). Speed is loyal to his family's business, run by his parents Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pops (John Goodman), who also designed Speed's car, the famous Mach 5.

After winning a qualifying race for the Grand Prix race, the owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) makes Speed a lucrative offer. After rejecting the offer, Speed uncovers a secret scheme among top corporate interests, including Royalton, who fix races and cheat to gain profit. Seeking to save his family's business and the racing sport itself from these corrupt corporate interests, Speed finds support from his parents and his longtime girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and enters The Crucible, a dangerous cross country race, in partnership with his former arch-rival, Racer X (Matthew Fox).

"Speed Racer" is clearly a family film, and like many family films, its strength lies in special effects, not in acting or plot. The races in "Racer" are mesmerizing. Every race scene is like a roller coaster ride with vibrant colors, stunning visual effects and pumping music. "Speed Racer" would be much improved had the Wachowski Brothers cut the pointless and lackluster scenes, leaving nothing but the races. Though this movie may not shine, by filming the movie in high definition video for the first time, the Wachowskis prove that they are indeed visionaries when it comes to presenting movies in new ways.

However, the script brings the ability of the screenwriters into question. Developing a character such as an aggressive racer should be easy enough, but the screenwriters manage to habitually botch up the job. Though "Speed Racer" is set in a fictional, futuristic world, a good percentage of the people in it have yet to move beyond the Stone Age. One racer, portrayed as a Viking, can only be bribed with furs while another self-absorbed driver has a penchant for snake skins. These self-effacing secondary drivers clearly go for cheap laughs but their antics become increasingly repetitive. Actors Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci struggle to manage as an eccentric couple, doing their best to work with a lackluster script.

The movie stays faithful to the original cartoon, unfortunately retaining even the most annoying and pointless parts. Speed's little brother Spritle Racer (Paulie Litt) and the chimpanzee, Chim-Chim, make their transition into the movie, still fulfilling the same purpose they did in the animated series - to waste time. Inane scenes such as Spritle and Chim-Chim finding candy on a plane while Speed is having a serious discussion about an offer from Royalton Industries are unnecessary. The Wachowski brothers continuously use Spritle and Chim-Chim as crutches to add comic relief to a movie that would be better without it.

For all intents and purposes, removing every line of dialogue from this movie to shift its emphasis solely on the race scenes would probably make for a much more enjoyable experience. Although the Wachowski brothers can invent bullet time and new ways of presenting something old, their dazzling effects still cannot stop "Speed Racer" from stalling.

"Speed Racer" (135 minutes) is rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language, and is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Sean Howard. There is a spy among us and his name is Sean Howard. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sean moved to Germantown prior to his current residence in Gaithersburg. Although he has now lived in Maryland for most of his life, he has retained his loyalty to … More »

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