by Rob Gonsalves
Who says relations between the U.S. and Japan aren’t solid? Anime is trying to look more and more like live-action Hollywood films (see the "Appleseed" movies), and live-action Hollywood films are trying to look more and more like anime (see just about any summer movie). "Speed Racer" arrives as a go-between, the missing link.Its distributor, Warner Bros., has a way of putting out a movie every decade that doesn’t look like any other movie ever made up until then: A Clockwork Orange in the ‘70s, Blade Runner in the ‘80s, Natural Born Killers in the ‘90s, and now Speed Racer.
"Project it on the back wall of a club and you've got something."
It comes to us courtesy of Andy and Larry Wachowski, who gave us the dark dystopia of the Matrix trilogy and wrote/produced the dark dystopia V for Vendetta. Their follow-up, to the bafflement of those expecting Babies and Kittens Get Killed by Robots: In IMAX 3D, is this colorful, whistle-clean, family-friendly ... wait, did I say only “colorful”? I mean a nuclear explosion in a Crayola factory. The colors in Speed Racer are ferociously bright and saturated; they don’t appear in nature, but then nothing else in the movie does, either. Essentially, for all the surface differences, the Wachowskis are still working the same side of the street: Speed Racer, like the Matrix films, exists in a hermetic computer-painted world controlled by Evil Overlords, and Only One Hero can prevail.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) races for his family business; his Pops (John Goodman) builds racing cars, his big brother Rex (Scott Porter) was once the world’s greatest racer before a fatal crash took him out. Speed wants to go on racing for Pops, Mom (Susan Sarandon), and her amazing cinnamon pancakes, but an oily racing magnate (Roger Allam, looking like a bizarre cross between Al Gore and Christopher Hitchens) wants Speed on board. We hear altogether too much about how racing affects stocks; the Wachowskis’ “duh” message this time is that it’s bad for corporations to squash art, which would sound better in a film that wasn’t bankrolled by Time/Warner to the tune of $100 million.
I’d say that Sarandon wanted to enact the movie’s housewife-mom role, which is so retro-simplistic it almost isn’t sexist, because she wanted to be in a movie her kids could see, except that her kids are 19 and 16, respectively — they’re ready for Rocky Horror by now. What was Christina Ricci’s excuse? She plays Trixie, who has loved Speed Racer since they met as children, and I guess it’s fun to see the former Miss Goth America being relentlessly, unironically cheerful. She’s ready for her own Rocky Horror by now, though it looks increasingly unlikely we’ll get it. Of the cast, only John Goodman stubbornly insists on rooting his scenes in something emotionally valid. About Speed’s kid brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), who shovels candy into his face whenever possible and hangs out with the monkey Chim-Chim, the less said the better, though their shared anime fantasy surprised a laugh out of me.
The Wachowskis want to have goofball fun here, and I’m sure they did, but what matters is whether the fun filters down to the rest of us. Gorgeous as Speed Racer is, the neon-gasm style gets monotonous, and the scenes away from the racing track are dreary even though the Wachowskis sprain themselves to make them look interesting. Kids might enjoy Speed Racer, but only on DVD, where they can cut to the chase(s); I can only add to the growing list of reports of restless, bored kids in the theater around me. The Wachowskis haven’t made Speed Racer for kids — they’ve made it for the kids they used to be. After The Matrix turned them into avatars of cool, they’ve done a 180 and made something entirely and intentionally square.They’ve certainly done worse — "Speed Racer" isn’t nearly as tedious as "The Matrix Revolutions," the entirety of which looked like it was filmed inside Dick Cheney’s colon. But I don’t think this film will catch the zeitgeist the way "The Matrix" did; "Iron Man" has stolen its thunder. Such is the fate that awaits all hipsters: there’s always someone cooler.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17083&reviewer=416
originally posted: 05/11/08 07:03:30