Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer Review

What the hell were the Wachowski's thinking? The 'masterminds' behind the Matrix fall further into decline with Speed Racer. The film is seemingly, from its immature humor, aimed at boys from the age of maybe 7-12, yet has a strangely dark worldview and really seems to push the PG boundaries (use of the word 'shit', use of middle finger, general violence). The Wachowski's really seem to struggle to balance humor aimed at the kiddies and the more mature plot elements at work; they'd have been better off making up their mind one way or the other and coming out as either a new sort of Spy Kids or going the other way towards the content level of a comic book movie. Further along these lines, who wants to take little kids to a two hour and fifteen minute movie? To say it drags along the way would be a momentous understatement.

The performances in the film are surprisingly strong, however. Emile Hirsch, who bores me generally, does a decent enough job making the lead role work. Christina Ricci, who keeps growing more and more attractive as she ages, breathes life into each of her scenes and seems to really have fun with the material. Matthew Fox is fine, but, in fairness, doesn't really have much to do while hidden behind a campy leather mask, likewise John Goodman is adequate if unremarkable. Susan Sarandon is actually quite good here; after a number of bored commercial performances of late (Enchanted, Rescue Me, Mr. Woodcock) I was surprised to see her do so well with this material. Scott Porter, of Friday Night Lights, makes an impact in his far too small role as the lost older brother Speed grew up idolizing. Again, the material he has to work with is junky, but Porter seems to make the best of it (as he did in the recent Prom Night). I'm telling you, Porter would make a great Superman in the future.

As I've already touched upon the film's length is highly problematic, running about forty-five minutes too long. The screenplay is garbage. The childish humor, often led by horrible young actor Paulie Litt (Speed's youngest brother, Spridle), garner hardly any laughs at my screening and served mainly to undercut the performances and the drama of the scenes in which they're inserted.

Aside from the surprisingly strong acting the film does have a few other positives. First of all is the film's wonderful sense of design and style. Crafted entirely on green screens and created in computers, the Wachowski's have designed a stupendous world filled with well designed cities and race tracks. I found their use of an almost dizzying array of colors to be an immensely exciting and stylish way to depict this world. Some may rightfully knock it for being garish without purpose, but I really think the extreme use of color helps bring the world to life. The editing and transitions are quite unlike other movies and also fit the style well, most effectively when the camera zooms in to one driver's cockpit then zips out of the first driver's car and into another's without the need for a cut; it's an exciting way to transition in action scenes (though I must say some of their other transitions, like talking head screen-wipes, are far less effective). Finally, as would be expected from the creators of The Matrix, the action scenes are exciting, superbly done and, considering the extreme visual style, are surprisingly easy to follow.

It's not the worst movie I've ever seen, but Speed Racer is deeply flawed. If you have any intention of seeing it I'd recommend catching it theaters and especially on an IMAX screen for the optimal picture quality and immersion.

Overall Score: 4/10

Speed Racer Trailer

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