Written by: The Brothers Wachowski, based on the series by Tatsuo Yoshida
Directed by: The Brothers Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Matthew Fox, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon
- “Spritle in the Big Leagues” set tour
- “Speed Racer: Supercharged!” cars featurette
Released by: Warner Brothers
My Advice: Rent it.
Speed Racer (Hirsch) is the bright and upcoming race car driver of the Racer family. He’s got so much racing in his blood, you would think he had been grown in a vat with the express purpose of putting the pedal to the metal and the thing to the floor. Of course, he’s got something to prove, since he’s racing in the shadow of his older and now deceased brother, Rex (Scott Porter). There’s also the fact that Racer Motors is an indie race car company when everybody else is owned by supamegacorporations. So when Speed starts to rise a little too high and gets offered a deal by one of these supamegas, what is he going to do? And what if they don’t like his answer?
Now I’ll tell you that I don’t remember too much of watching the anime, although I did when I was a kid. I just remember the kid and the monkey annoying the shit out of me. So with that established, we begin.
The smartest thing the film does is setup the world we’re entering from the get go, from the company logos being over-colorized before the movie even begins. Then we’re swept into a present-day/flashback sequence that’s almost as neck-wrenching as the race that we’re witnessing. But it works, and it shows us we’re in the grip of CG madness. It’s not a bad madness: there’s so much to take in, when the screen is most flooded with color and CG it’s almost as though people are acting in front of a blank wall. When presented with so much information, it seemed to focus my attention on the performances.
And the performances aren’t bad. Hirsch is not a bad Speed Racer at all. Christina Ricci is a fine Trixie. Susan Sarandon isn’t given much to do, but she’s the Mom. So I’m not sure what we should expect from that. Both Rex and Racer X are excellent, especially the look and attitude of X. The standout in the family, though, is John Goodman. Not only is his aforementioned brawl probably the high point of the entire film, but he actually has some great moments as Pops. He seemed to be the one the writers had done the best job on.
Also of note is Roger Allam, whose Royalton character looks like the bastard child of Tim Curry and Christopher Hitchens. And the idea to get Richard Roundtree as an early race car driver was inspired. The poster they put together that looks like Shaft behind the wheel of a race car–I want that on my wall.
What’s sad is that the film, somewhere along the way, decided to be a kids movie. This largely through the overuse of Spritle and That Damn Monkey. It makes you want to find Gleek and tell him all is forgiven, it’s so bad. And it’s not Paulie Litt’s fault. He’s playing a great annoying little kid because the kid was written that way. And I’ve got nothing against this being a kids movie, but the story is a bit too much to be Just For Kids. And the kids stuff is a bit too freaking stupid to not clog the minds of adults. So in the liminal deadly void between is where the film falls on its face.
It really needed somebody to polish the script, for one thing. Half an hour in, it switches inexplicably to a bunch of people in a semi truck that’s outfitted with piranha. Who are these people? Why do we keep spending time with characters who are off the main narrative? Wait, is that the snake-themed character that was introduced fifty minutes agoâ€¦? How was I supposed to recognize him without his helmet? Why are there Vikings all of a sudden? It’s like a cross between The Warriors and Super Mario Kart. Beehives as a weapon? Where was all this silly shit in the Phantom Menace pod race when we needed it? Why in the world did you stop the forward momentum of the movie to give us a moment with Sparky? Or yet another stupid moment with Spritle and That Damn Monkey? Did we really need that sappy flashback explanation at the end?
Answer: no, we didn’t really need a lot of this shit. The film tries to do too much and fails at everything but its core story. And then it tries to be both a goofy kids flick and a complicated adult flick, but keeping enough of both worlds to succeed in only alienating everyone. As a result, it’s terribly, terribly disappointing and if it weren’t for the efforts of the cast, it would be not worth watching to begin with. I don’t care how many of the whacked out Hot Wheels races I imagined as a kid you put on the big screen.
It doesn’t help matters that the DVD bonus bits are a lost cause. There’s a featurette that shows Paulie Litt “sneaking” around the set to interact with various people. This might actually be fun–even for adults, but it’s so obviously for kids that it makes it harder for anyone over the age of ten to watch, especially since you’re constantly bombarded with pop-up meaningless facts like “This is Paulie’s first time working with a chimpanzee” and inane questions like “If you could create any environment at all, which would you pick?” Would you shut up? I’m trying to look at the sets.
Then there’s a “Supercharged” featurette which takes you through all of the cars and their various and sundry abilities. It would be okay, except it sounds like they drafted one of the computer guys to “hey, do your announcer’s voice” and handle all the narration. It gets really old in a hurry. But hey, I bet kids would love it! That and That Damn Monkey.
The movie will have made its money back by now, but only just. And it didn’t turn into the massive franchise Warner Brothers was hoping for. So this might be the final version of the DVD we get. Or they might come out with a real 2-disc set that actually goes to the trouble of explaining all the crazy CG and artwork and design that went into everything–that might be the smart bet. Either way, this disc is worth renting if you want to see how not to make a kids movie. And to see Goodman throw down. That’s about it.