A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, PG, 135 mins.
2008, PG, 135 mins.
Emile Hirsch: Speed Racer / Christina Ricci: Trixie / John Goodman:
Pops Racer / Susan Sarandon: Mom Racer / Matthew Fox: Racer
X / Roger Allam: Royalton / Paulie Litt: Spritle / Kick Gurry:
RACER Ė directed by The Wachowski Brothers and based on the 1960ís
Japanese magna and anima series, Mach GoGoGo Ė is a retina-exploding,
rip-roaring, high octane, rainbow colored, technological triumph.
From a sheer sensory perspective, there has never been anything
like it: It's a stupendous visual experience. Watching it is
kind of akin to having every single brightly hued candy from the
convenience store isle hurtled at you at super sonic speeds.
should come of absolutely no surprise, considering that the Wachowskis
utterly revolutionized and redefined the modern action film with
their MATRIX trilogy. What is
surprising is that SPEED RACER is not a lavishly nihilistic, dreary, and
scary post-apocalyptic story of decay and misery that the MATRIX films were.
No, instead this film is a boisterous, giddy, sugar-rush of
explosive digital colors and glowing vistas that goes well beyond
over-the-top and into the uncharted territory of sublime, LSD-hallucinogenic
energy. Most crucially, of
course, is that this film is wicked and insane fun, wrapped in a wild and
exuberant package of ferocious technological marvels.
In an age of incredibly realized CGI effects, SPEED RACER is
undeniably state-of-the-art; it's a masterpiece of phantasmagoric candy for
are few films that are as aggressively stylized as this one, almost to the
point where the effects stand up and declare how they are transforming the
medium. This is one of
those very rare film-going experiences where its human element takes a
decided back seat to the circus sheen of its artifice.
This is not a criticism, though.
For what SPEED RACER does, itís indubitably brilliant and bold.
What you can sense throughout its trippy and zippy 135 minutes is
that the Wachowskis are absolutely fanatical with fetishistic glee and
enthusiasm for the Japanese source material, down to every single inch of
every frame of the film. The
goofy, carefree, gee-whiz innocence and energy of Mach GoGoGo is fully
realized here with a go-for-broke and donít-look-back visual opulence.
What the brothers have done Ė and done so passionately Ė is to
take the iconic and low tech 60ís anime and create their own
distinctively creative film that hybrids dazzling action, electrifying
visuals, and a campy, feverously pleasurable, and breezy aura.
SPEED RACER will be remembered for being a family centric and
colorful magnum opus of big budget, summer blockbuster movie magic and
no wonder why the human element will play second fiddle to the filmís
vibrantly vigorous palette. I
think thatís precisely the intention here.
This film, like STAR WARS
or THE LORD OF THE RINGS, gallantly
imagines any fictitious landscape and conceives it without any apparent
boundaries to the imagination of its creators. Yes,
the film is ostentatiously artificial (there are over 2000 shots that
contain some sort of computer trickery and tinkering), but its
artificiality is crucial to its impact.
What the Wachowskis do in SPEED RACER is imagine the unimaginable
by creating a neon-colored, shiny, alternative futuristic universe that
could never, ever possibly exist in the realm of the real world.
Shooting the film with real sets and locations would have all but
ruined the effect. Instead of
going for realism, the Wachowskis go for a hyperrealism that tries to find
a difficult balance between live action and the aesthetic of anime.
The characters donít simply appear in this crazy, manically
envisioned world; they fully inhabit it.
In turn, the filmís universe engulfs viewers so we feel a part of
it. As a result, SPEED RACER
deserves placing on a shot list of pioneering films for how it works as a machine designed exclusively to entertain
and dazzle filmgoers.
whole film exists in a wonky and vivacious Never-neverland where colors
explode everywhere (like DICK TRACY, this film understands and honors the
palette of comic books and magna). Environments
vary to alarming degrees, from idyllic suburban American (here, the film
looks like it belongs in the 50ís or
60ís) and then there are moments where we witness limitlessly huge
cityscapes that look like L.A. from BLADE RUNNER
that have been spray
painted with every conceivable florescent shade.
there are the race tracks, which donít exists in any conventional sense
in a world marred by physics and laws of gravity.
The cars in this film donít simply drive across the race track,
the fly, jump, summersault, flip, and spin their way to victory. The tracks themselves have a life of their own too.
We are not talking a few hundred miles of laps here, folks.
The tracks envisioned by the Wachowskis are like insane theme park
roller coasters from hell with 360 degree loops, impossible right angled corners,
roads that careen around mountains and bodies of water, all while the
muscled up autos trek through them like they just had napalm dropped in
their tanks with a small match lit inside.
Not only do they drive unfeasibly fast, they can drive up walls,
propel themselves over obstructions with stilt like legs, and - in one sly
moment - their wheels brandish hubcap spears that pop out to stab at their
opponents tires. Some cars
even have hubcaps that protrude shields that fight against other spear
hubcap attacks. If anything,
SPEED RACER is outrageously overwhelming and exhausting as a
visual-auditory experience and its rush of head trippiní, psychedelically abstract trickery is
filmís story has a happy-go-lucky and lighthearted intensity and spunk,
even when it develops a mantra against corporate greed and Capitalistic
Darwinism. The film quickly
introduces us to the Racer Family, which includes Pops Racer (John
Goodman, good here); Rex Racer (Scott Porter); Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon,
doing decent work even when surrounded by green screens); Spritle Racer (Paulie Litt,
displaying good slapstick comic timing), and, yes, Speed Racer (Emile
Hirsch, playing the hero with wide-eyed guts and perseverance).
There is also the cute, sexy, and "cool as beans" Trixie (Christina Ricci,
having fun with her small role of the girlfriend).
Rex himself does not fare too long in the story, as an early
flashback shows him dying in a horrible auto crash, which forever is in
the back of Speedís memories of him. This tragic event further propels him to want
to be a racing dynamo.
is uncommonly gifted as racecar driver with his tricked out Mach 5. After he wins a big, high marquee race he catches the eye of
Royalton (Roger Allam, playing his part with an appropriate level of
juicy, cartoonish evilness and wickedness).
Royalton wants to sign Speed, but all of his bribes do nothing to
break the spirit of the kid, who only races because he loves it.
Royalton then declares Speed his number one enemy, while Speed
tries to carve out a name for himself and attempts to overcome the omnipotent
power of Royaltonís racing empire (which, incidentally, fixes races). Speed has his wits, skills, and his family to help guide him
along the way, but he also finds an ally in the form of the enigmatic and
mysterious Racer X (Matthew
Fox), whom looks kind of like a cross between The Phantom and the gimp from
there was one small criticism of SPEED RACER then it would be that its
underlining story of the villainís corruption and the manner he rigs big
races is a bit too convoluted for younger audience members, not to mention
that the film drags on perhaps a little too long (at 135 minutes, SPEED RACER
is about 10-15 minutes too long, at least to keep young tykes from
anxiously squirming in their theatre seats).
The filmís complicated and dense flashback structure also may
overpower children. Yet, these are mild concerns that are prevailed over by the
filmís sense of delirious, wheezy joviality and cotton candy flavored
sweetness to the proceedings. SPEED
RACER flirts with playful merriment and light-heartedness and seemingly
puts up a roadblock to all pompous and cynical filmgoers to leave the
theatre immediately. This is
certainly a film that can be easy to detest with the wrong frame of mind,
but if youíre willing to allow yourself into this captivating world,
then the results can be transcending.
a budget topping $120 million and a long shoot that involved gigantic
green-screened stages in Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, the Wachowskis
aimed for the sheen, crispness, and layered look that has permeated anima
and cartoons in general. Using
HD video cameras and employing John Gaeto (whom radically changed the
movies with his pioneering bullet time effects for THE MATRIX in 1999),
the Wachowskis are able to fluently create a live action film that
perfectly adheres to the trappings of anime: sharp focus, infinite
depth of field between foreground and background images, along with
flared-up background explosions and Techno-Color-inspired vistas.
Whatís so inspiring is the way the brothers never feel inhibited
by the worlds they envision: SPEED
RACER has a universe that is far, far away from approaching any type of
plausible reality, but its kaleidoscope of synthetic richness and
sumptuousness is what makes this fake world come alive.
Go, Speed, go!