Friday, May 9, 2008

Movie Review: Speed Racer

Rating: 2 out of 5

I went into Speed Racer with low expectations. I'm not a fan of the Wachowski brothers. I thought The Matrix was pretty eye candy but that was about it. I didn't like what they did to V For Vendetta in translating it to the big screen and I didn't care for the way they treated Alan Moore in the process. I thought the trailers for Speed Racer looked terrible. So why did I go see the movie? I went to see it because nearly 40 years ago I loved to watch the original Speed Racer on television and there was a part of me that hoped I was wrong and that the movie would be good. Sadly it lived down to my expectations.

What was good about it? Very little. Most of the casting is spot on. I thought Emile Hirsch was good as Speed and John Goodman made a great Pops Racer. In fact, the only bad casting was Kick Gurry as Sparky and Roger Allam as the villain, Royalton. Gurry doesn't fit at all and Allam comes across as a Tim Curry-wannabe, to the point where I wondered why the Wachowskis didn't just cast Curry in the role.

Neither the plot nor the dialogue is particularly good. Given the movie's 2+ hour length you have to question the decision to include Speed's origin story. It's not like Speed is an alien rocketed to earth from a distant planet or a high school student who gained superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He's a guy who likes to drive fast. Do we really need to spend a lot of time on flashbacks of Speed as a little kid obsessing over racing? As far as plot goes, it can be distilled down to this statement: all corporations are evil and all races are fixed. Dialogue tends towards the heavily clich├ęd and the story isn't particularly well thought out.

I'm bothered that Racer X is fairly open about being a government agent. I'm also bothered that Pops isn't the one who tricks out the Mach 5. All Pops puts in, really, are the hydraulic jacks and pretty much every car in the movie has those. In fact most racecars seem to spend as much time airborne as they do on the ground. Pops does put a canopy on the Mach 5 but it takes the government to make it bulletproof. The government also gives Speed all his other gadgets. Remember kiddies, government is good, corporations are evil.

With the Wachowskis making the movie you would expect it to at least be decent eye candy but even at that it's a failure. Everything just looked horrible. This is the latest movie to be shot with the actors in front of a green screen and then everything else added in with computer generated images (CGI). Other recent movies to use this technique would be Sin City and 300. Unfortunately Speed Racer doesn't do a very good job of integrating the live action actors with their CGI backgrounds and the results look horrible.

Perhaps most disappointing are the race scenes. In the world of Speed Racer all car races are a combination of drift racing and demolition derby. Being the best driver apparently means being the best at forcing other people to have accidents but its okay because every car has a special system to ensure the driver escapes even the most horrific of crashes without a scratch on them. Cars constantly slip and slide as if they're on ice no matter what the surface whether it's a racetrack, the desert, a dried out mud flat or a road. In fact there's a sequence where Speed, Trixie and Racer X, all driving separate cars on a winding mountain road at high speed, have a conversation via radio. At no point in the conversation do any of them stop fishtailing back and forth. Not even on the straightaways. There are even points where cars just spontaneously begin doing 360s for no apparent reason. When they're not busy driving sideways, which seems to be how most drivers in the movie spend their time, they're flipping through the air since everyone has hydraulic jacks.

My advice? Skip Speed Racer and go see Iron Man instead. Even if you've already seen Iron Man you'll still find it a more enjoyable movie than Speed Racer.

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