Review: Speed Racer
PLOT: Speed Racer is the best of the best. He is on the fast track to becoming one of the best drivers around. And when a rich and powerful man named Royalton wants Speed to race for him, he will do anything to get him on his team. Yet this man of money has more than just respect for our hero, he has a few devious plans to further corrupt the art of race car driving. And when the young racer says no, Mr. R. makes sure that the Racer family will suffer. It is up to Speed and the mysterious Racer X to save the day and take on Royalton as only they know how… by tearing up the tracks in a race for good over evil.
While watching SPEED RACER, I found it to be a big, loud and colorful display as the camera moved all over the place. It skips across the timeline as quickly as a race car driver can fall out of a race. In fact, in the first race alone, we learn all about Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), his brother Rex (Scott Porter) and the rest of his family. The bond between older brother Rex and little Speed, is an important figure for the rest of this overly long explosion of color and lights. But the truth is, there were a whole lot of kids in the theatre when I saw the film. And to them, the explosions, the clashing of car against car and the pure unadulterated soda pop feel to the film, made for a fantastic theatre going experience. There is nothing wrong with this kind of experience, and The Wachowski Brothers bring a sort of colorful, kid friendly version of THE MATRIX to the classic anime cartoon.
I mentioned the first race, the one that establishes the characters and plot. It is a race that Speed is set to win. As he is racing, memories of his brother come to life. After school, young Speed (Nicholas Elia) jumps in the trusty Mach 5 when Rex comes to pick him up. He begs his big brother to take him to the track. I actually enjoyed this relationship. I thought all three of the actors involved did fine work considering what they are given. Emile is a wonderful actor, and makes what is essentially a cartoon character, very believable. And as Rex, Porter evokes enough big brother charm to let us understand why young Speed worships him. And since much of the film revolves around their relationship, and the tragedy that befalls on Rex, it is a pretty solid ground.
But, this tale of big bad business vs. mom and pop shop is also a bit on the preachy side. Many of the bad guys are so unbelievably colorful, that in the end, are clichéd and not really all that interesting. Aside from Mr. Royalton himself, played by the terrific Roger Allam, none of them deliver any real suspense because we all have a pretty good idea who’ll come out on top, The story involves Speed and his family who get involved with Royalton. The big “R” wants Speed to race for him and offers up some pretty tantalizing extras if he does. But Speed is all about family and wants to continue racing for Pop (John Goodman). This fact makes Royalton very unhappy because he has some evil deeds in the works to keep the sport of racing dirty. In fact, because he is told no, he threatens to destroy this poor Racer family and take away everything they have. Will Speed be able to save the day with family in tow? What do you think?
It seems that this story of good and bad and very little of what’s in-between could have had a little bit less of the in-between. In fact, I think they could’ve removed about 10-15 minutes of dialogue (if not more) and made for a more enjoyable experience. And since this is basically a “family film”, I think it might have been a wise idea to do just that. But for some reason, in spite of its length, it still is a whole lot of fun. The three major races are so damn entertaining that all the young eyes were glued to the screen when the twisted metal flowed through this Candy Land on acid type of world. But I warn you, little Spritle and Chim Chim (Paulie Litt and a monkey) border on Jar Jar Binks annoying. Their humor had many laughing, but I found it to be much too “cute“. Paulie Litt did a good job here, but this character just got on my nerves. This is where it really seals the deal as a kid flick.
For all the good and the bad, I felt SPEED RACER is a very worthwhile flick to take the family to. I loved the slick direction and the insane editing. This thing looks like a real life cartoon, but I also felt that there is enough humanity for the Racer family to earn our time. The cast is all very good. I especially liked Susan Sarandon as mom. And you know what is interesting about Matthew Fox? He is really good as Racer X. This is a fun movie. It’s a bit long and preachy, but the racing sequences with the crazy time warp going on throughout are all good times, and most likely the kiddies will have fun with this. I liked SPEED RACER quite a bit, with all the problems that came with it. I think I would have liked a little less of it better, and that damn Spritle and Chim Chim were insanely annoying, but I still had a good run around the track. Go Speed Racer Go! My rating 7/10 -- JimmyO