All the pretty lights
Speed Racer offers up some eye candy, but not much else
To give the ambiguous Wachowski duo their due, they’ve pulled off a rather neat hat trick. With the delivery of the perplexing Speed Racer, they’ve climbed out of their creative coffin to pound in what might be the final nail. Perplexing in that while watching it, one is never certain exactly what demographic the CGI-wankfest is targeting.
Ostensibly a family film, it’s in search of one very strange family. Speed Racer is not a property that all that many folks under the age of 40 remember, and the ones who do probably weren’t crying out for a candy-colored live-action adaptation.
Admittedly, the late-'60s cartoon was probably the first exposure American audiences had to nascent animé. But it really wasn’t that good, eliciting ridicule from most, and an ironic appreciation from others for its crappy cut-n-paste style of animation and shrieky dubbing. But in an era when crappy animation isn’t a hindrance to commercial success, I suppose Speed Racer (né: Mach GoGoGo) was ahead of its time.
There isn’t all that much of a story here: a few years after his hotshot racing brother is presumed killed in a fiery crash during the course of an outlaw competition, young Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) settles in behind the wheel of bro’s Mach 3 to carry on the family aspirations. Cheering him on are Pops (John Goodman), Mom (Susan Sarandon) and his plucky girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci). There’s also Sparky the superfluous mechanic, and an obnoxious kid and his chimp. And some talky drama about a mega-corporation trying to buy Speed’s soul that leads to the boy jumping into the cross-country battle royale that supposedly killed his brother.
The rapid-fire editing doesn’t make for a cohesive narrative. I’m not sure I enjoyed it, but I experienced it. Somewhere around the halfway mark I fell into a flashback back to when I dropped acid in college … vivid colors, non-linear input. Tracers. So I just leaned back and went with the flow. The flow being what appeared to be a Dumpster full of Skittles (each individual candy representing movies like Tron and The Fifth Element) consumed and then regurgitated onto the movie screen.
But Speed Racer has one thing going for it—it was definitely well-cast. Ricci, in particular, is spectacular, her big ol’ spooky eyes perfect for a manga knockoff. Goodman and Sarandon seem to be enjoying their slumming. Unfortunately, the kid and the chimp were intolerable, the boy coming across as what Joe Pesci would have been like as a preteen. And oddly enough, the chimp would have worked better as a CGI effect … the Wachowskis didn’t seem to figure out how to get the thing to do what they wanted.
Speed Racer being a live-action cartoon, it also sort of disguises the Wachowski knack for clunky dialogue. But still, it may be too talky at points for the young’ns. And there’s some pretty violent stuff in here for the PG rating.
The only folks who might enjoy this are those who automatically laugh at the sight of a chimpanzee ("Ooh … monkey! Ha ha!"), acidheads, or those who chuckle appreciatively at the mention of a Commodore 64.