I’ve often pondered if a movie can scrape by on sheer entertainment factor alone. Speed Racer answers yes, but barely.
Based on the 60’s anime series (check out the first season on Hulu), Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the kid brother of racing legend Rex Racer, who walked out on the family business and met an untimely death in a cross country rally race. Ten years later, Speed is the next big thing in racing, and he must now compete to save his family’s independent auto company, and to bring honour back to the sport of racing. In order to do so he must compete in the same race that killed his brother, there-by qualifying for the Grand-Prix. He’s able to do so with the help of his father Pops (John Goodman), girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), mechanics Sparky and Spritle (Kick Gurry and Paulie Litt) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).
I defended this flick for a long time because I figured it would come up against the same kind of nay-sayers that 300 hit last year. They just wouldn’t understand the filmmaker’s vision and direction. What Andy and Larry Wachowski were going for is a bizarre amalgamation of live action and anime. And fortunately for the film, they accomplish it. It’s a high energy, very kinetic, very fantastical film. I was dazzled by the sheer ballsiness of it. And it did entertain me for the entirely too long 135 minute run time.
But it came apart in the writing. That’s where it got it’s length. Too often the story plodded along toward the action. That could be the problem with translating anime to a feature film. Anime is known for taking forever to go somewhere (and why it got so popular with the ADD afflicted youth of America, I’ll never understand). And it’s sort of an irony of hypocrisies that the film called Speed Racer moves at a snails pace. But the Wachowski’s never seemed to figure out that this wasn’t a high concept action flick like The Matrix. It was a film based on an anime about a guy who races a really cool car to fight corporate corruption and avenge his brother’s death. Stick to the racing guys.
But the remarkably talented cast did their damnedest to work with the little they were given. Hirsch (Alpha Dog, Into the Wild) has set himself up as one of the most promising young actors in the game, and even with the kitchy dialog and drawn out non-racing scenes, you get this sense that he really is trying to do both his talent and the material justice. If only the Wachowski’s had done the same.
Ricci (Black Snake Moan) is pitch perfect as Trixie. As is Goodman (The Big Lebowski) as Pops. The two seemed to have a deeper understanding of the characters, that went beyond what was handed to them at rehearsals. Granted, Pops and Trixie aren’t the most complex characters in the world, but they certainly are fun, and iconic in their own way. They knew it was important to get the characters right, and they did. Kudos to them.
I would have to say that kids and those with only a passing interest in the original Speed Racer would enjoy this (especially kids), as the more hard core fans will only leave the theatre disappointed and feeling nothing but resentment and disdain for the brothers Wachowski.
– Brodie Mann