Speed Racer (2008)


After seeing trailers for this movie, I decided I didn’t want to feel stuck in a jelly bean tornado for a whole two hours and fifteen minutes. But for whatever reason, I finally decided to take a chance on Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s big-budget, big-screen adaptation of a Japanese cartoon. It’s just as ugly as I expected, but under that garish surface, there’s a respectable script and a surprising amount of heart helping Speed Racer cross the finish line.

The ugliness took about ten minutes to get over. The cheap-looking green-screening of actors against cartoony backgrounds is an aesthetic I can’t embrace. They were reaching for something vivid like Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, but landed somewhere south of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. What finally caught my fancy was a plot-point — the fact that Speed Racer’s big brother died in a crash a few years earlier. Then I latched onto Roger Allam’s villainous supporting character. And after a while, I warmed up to the wholesomeness of Speed Racer’s family — casting the likes John Goodman and Susan Sarandon can always do wonders. I also enjoyed the little brother and the pet chimpanzee. Their antics pronounce to the audience, ‘Hey, look — we’re a big stupid summer movie! Love us or leave us!’ Fair enough.

The script does move fast, but in the best way possible. The way it jumps back and forth in time is pretty nifty. The computer-generated whizz-bang action bullshit is sprinkled throughout the movie, but no set-piece overstays its welcome, and the Wachowskis never let the action supersede the characters or their intentions. The script makes good use of a mysterious Racer X character — is he Speed Racer’s brother, still alive? And I also appreciated that Speed Racer’s enemy isn’t just another run-of-the-mill villain, but an ideology and a philosophy. God bless the Wachowski’s for throwing a dash of substance into the whirlwind.

Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and Matthew Fox. Solid scoring effort by Michael Giacchino.

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