Thursday, May 22, 2008

Speed Racer

When writing critical pieces, I like to accentuate the positive, and not tear things down arbitrarily. This in turn leads to probably the highest average review score for me as opposed to my fellow TMBC reviewers. This is mostly because I'm picky as hell about what I watch, and generally have a good idea about what I'll like. But, back on the other hand, I don't love championing things that are generally pretty can feel a bit too safe. Which is why I am taking great pleasure in lauding a movie that is getting widely panned and underperforming at the box office, like many other works of true genius: Speed Racer.
Adapted from the beloved anime series, Speed Racer tells the story of Speed (Emile Hirsch), a young man obsessed with racing. He is the son of Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon) Racer, and older brother to Spritle (Paulie Litt), the original trouble-making little brother, along with his pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim. Rounding out the ersatz family are mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) and Speed's longtime girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci). Speed grew up idolizing his brother Rex (Scott Porter), who became estranged from the family, and apparently died during a particularly dangerous cross-country rally. Now grown up and a promising driver, Speed is approached by Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam) of Royalton Industries, who wants Speed to join his massive stable of drivers. Of course, Speed turns him down since his father has always been independent and Royalton tells him that the Grand Prix has always been fixed, and Royalton warns Speed that he will never succeed without his backing. Speed is eventually approached for help by Inspector Detector (Benno Furmann) with a conspiracy linking Royalton to mobsters. Guiding and watching over Speed during this time is the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).
At the heart of the story is love for something, and the importance of family. The crux of that love is racing in its purest form, but it could easily be about a number of things. While the story is solid but nothing that you haven't seen before, I can guarantee you've never seen a visual treat like Speed Racer. The Wachowski Bros wanted to make it a "live-action anime", and they succeed wildly. The only drawback (this is debatable) is that there is so much going on for so long that one needs to have a relatively high threshold for sensory overload. The universe of Speed Racer definitely tends towards cartoon behavior with anime flourishes, speed lines, etc, but wisely keeps one foot in reality, keeping the film grounded. I was a little unsure of this from the previews, but there is more realism there that I had been lead to believe. The cast is extremely instrumental in doing this: there is a lot of love for the characters, and everybody clearly did their character homework. But hands down, the real breakout performance is from Fox, who shines as the enigmatic badass Racer X. I never thought of the Wachowskis as actor's directors, but they have done a fine job with Fox, who obviously worked his ass off. I find it a little ironic that he comes across as so much looser than Dr. Jack Shepherd playing a laconic character like Racer X, but after seeing him in this I lamented what a great job he could have done had he been cast as Cyclops in the X-Men movies. After the ninja fight, I was even convinced that he would have been a great Batman.
But I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It moves quickly for a film of its length, and I was left slightly exhausted, like the Flash just took me out for a job. Sadly, this movie got crushed in opening weekend by current box-office champ Iron Man, and won't be able to catch up much between Prince Caspian and the imminent release of Indiana Jones 4. But I feel that Speed Racer is a future cult classic and family favorite, and hope that people warm up to it soon, as it is more than worthy. I give Speed Racer a 15 on the 22 scale.

Best Lines:

Trixie: "Oh my god, was that a ninja?"
Pops Racer: "More like a "non"-ja. Terrible what passes for a ninja these days."

Spritle: "I'm going to send that guy some Chim-Chim cookies!"
Pops Racer: "You'll do no such thing!"

Speed: "Get that weak s*** off my track!"

[catching Spritle playing with his chimp in the living room]
Mom: "Hey, what are you two doing?"
Spritle: "Nothing."
Mom: "Was that the same nothing that broke my last couch?"
Spritle: "No, that was a totally different nothing."


Dr. Worm said...

I'll admit that this was nowhere near the top of my "must see" list for this summer, but I'm significantly more in favor of seeing it now.

I knew very little of the Speed Racer universe, but if the world is bizarre enough to allow for names like "Inspector Detector," I might just have to take it for a ride...

Moshe Reuveni said...

And I would just like to say that I have learnt a lot from watching films I don't like. The films I like the most today are probably films I wouldn't have liked 15 years ago when action and special effects were all that mattered (yes, I know, I'm old).

Your Racist Friend said...

Three words for you, DW: Acrobatic Car Team. They're not in the movie, but yeah, stuff like that.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Having recently watched Speed Racer (and having liked it as much as you did, if not more), I would like to offer a slightly different opinion to yours:
You say that "At the heart of the story is love for something, and the importance of family". I agree these play an important role, but I think that the main event is the power of one to change things and improve the world just by doing the thing one does best. In this case, Speed is improving the world thorugh racing.