Speed Racer

Speed Racer

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Watching “Speed Racer” is like freebasing Pixy Stix. It’s like inserting Skittles directly under your eyelids (I can TASTE the rainbow!). It’s like diving, Scrooge McDuck-style, into a pool full of neon crayons. It’s like the nightmare you had after a three-day Red Bull bender. It’s like being beaten to death with a rolled-up blacklight poster. It’s like being locked in a glass cell that is slowly filling with gummi bears. 

Never has there been a film so brightly colored, so frenetically thrust at the audience, so enthusiastic to embrace the shallow source material (in this case a 1967 Japanese cartoon show) and turn it into something bombastically self-aggrandizing.


No, that’s not quite right. Self-aggrandizing is the wrong term. “Speed Racer” is not trying to make the (admittedly shallow) premise of the original show seem like it’s important, per se (although it does try with some impenetrable plot points halfway through). It, instead, seems to be taking the feather-light, ultra-cheesy, rock-stupid conceits of the paper-thin 1967 original to logical extremes never before imagined by the likes of Hollywood or anyone else for that matter.


Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) lives for racing. He lives with his Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon), Pops Racer (John Goodman), extremely annoying little brother Spritle Racer (Paulie Litt), and horrific diseased chimp Chim-Chim (Willy and Kenzie). He also has a few ersatz family members like the mysterious Australian live-in mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry), and his would-be girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci). The Racer family is still smarting from Rex Racer’s death a few years before, but they’ve managed to win many car races as a family business.


Speed is approached by a high-powered British CEO (Roger Allam) whose very Britishness (including bad teeth) imply that he’s up to no good. Speed is enlisted to race for his multinational supercompany. Speed politely refuses (He prefers racing with his family. Awwww.). This causes the CEO to take legal action against the Racer family, which forces Speed to race in a sketchy high-stakes cross-country race, complete with jumping cars, flying buzzsaws, Ben-Hur-style side-smashings, and a scene where the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox from “Party of Five”) flips upside-down over another car just to punch the other driver in the face. There’s a lot of upside-down car flipping in this movie. And a lot of explosions. But y’know, really colorful explosions. And no one dies. It’s like a high-octane version of the “Thunderbirds” movie. A film to make “Dick Tracy” look bland. A neon-injected explosion at the Nickelodeon ooze factory.


There are some plot complications in the middle where the villains’ motives seem to be about using the car races to drive stock prices on way or the other.


Who is this film for? All signs point to children: only kids could get behind the assaultive, horrific cotton-candy color scheme. Only kids would find the unfunny one-liners of the abrasive Spritle funny. Only kids wouldn’t mind that the Hellspawn Chim-Chim exists in any context. Only ADD-addled kids could suspend their disbelief enough to be excited by the lightning quick cutting of the improbable races and racetracks (in addition to the car-flipping, there’s a lot of upside-down track-hugging as well).


But then, are kids familiar with the original “Speed Racer” TV series? Heck, most adults don’t know about it. What kids could understand the dynamic of The Mob employed by a big business? What kids understand the corporate need to falsely inflate stock prices? What kids even know about stocks? What kids would understand Racer X’s role as an undercover Internal Affairs agent? What kids could sit still for 129 minutes of anything but Harry Potter?


And would any kids pick up on the irony of Speed racing to maintain his “real,” earthy connection with his family, when the entire universe in which “Speed Racer” takes place is one of the most artificial I’ve seen in any movie ever? Most fully animated films are more subdued and realistic.


Where does “Speed Racer” take place? Well, judging by the technology, it’s clearly the future, and judging by the accents of most people, I’d say we’re in England. There are racers of various nationalities (there’s a Japanese racer played by Rain, and a German racer played by Moritz Bleibtrau, and a wacky racer played by Muttley– er… I mean Christian Oliver), but no real country is given. I’d say “Speed Racer” takes place in an alternate universe where people evolved from SweeTarts.


The most baffling thing about the “Speed Racer” movie, is that is was concocted and executed by The Wachowski Brothers, who, in 1999 made the very popular sci-fi film “The Matrix.” They made some incredibly self-important mediocre sequels to this film, but you would think they’d be granted the good graces to take on any project they wished. Was “Speed Racer,” a multi-million dollar kids’ film, infused with some of the most cutting edge special effects technology, based on a late ‘60s Japanese property (one that even has apologists amongst its most hardcore followers) really their dream project?


And did they really need so many shots where a talking character would slide across the screen, inducing a wipe?


And… and… Chim-Chim.


Die, Chim-Chim, DIE!

Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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