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  Speed Racer

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon
Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
by: Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

Written by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

Distributor: Warner Bros.


     Every year, there seems to be one movie released that simply mystifies the viewer solely through its technical mastery. This movie isn’t a spectacle simply because it is full of flashy and impressive special effects; it bends all of the rules of traditional filmmaking as we know it. Last summer, this film came in the form of The Bourne Ultimatum, a picture that contained so many handheld shots and complicatedly-staged  action sequences that it was jarring to think about the levels of intricacy and continuity that director Paul Greengrass and his team had to account for when making it. This time around, the film is the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer, a hundred-million-dollar adaptation of the popular age-old Japanese cartoon that accomplishes so much more than the casual filmgoer might’ve thought possible. Shot entirely on green-screens and filled in with CGI backgrounds, the movie takes the idea of futuristic automobile racing and a modernized 1950s-esque setting to a colorful, stupefying level that is rather miraculous to experience.

     But the magic of the film can’t even be narrowed down simply to its visual appearance. Critic Eugene Novikov of FilmBlather.com hits the nail on the head when he writes in his review: “It's not only the look of any particular shot that's remarkable, but the way the film moves: people and objects fly across the frame, effortlessly transitioning from one shot to the next; perspectives shift in completely unexpected ways; the background whips in and out of focus depending on the motion in the foreground. It's an attempt to replicate the look of the original Speed Racer anime cartoon, but I've seen the cartoon, and it didn't look like this.” Indeed, Speed Racer is something otherworldly. Viewers may get headaches after watching the characters and the action zoom every which way for the film’s whopping two-hour-and-fifteen-minute running-length, but they certainly won’t be able to deny the sheer fluid power of what they’ve witnessed.

     Yes, I did just say the movie runs for two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s undeniably much too long given that its one-note story is about a young man named Speed (Emile Hirsch) who wants nothing but to race his super-car. Even when the Wachowskis throw in a major plot-thread involving corrupt businessman E.P. Royalton (a fantastic Roger Allam) and his attempts to sabotage Speed’s career because Speed won’t sign with his commercial racing-team, the exercise remains incredibly thin for one of such grandiosity. Another glaring issue of the same sort is the fact that the actual racing sequences, which run for considerable amounts of time in and of themselves, don’t seem climactic enough because the rest of the film is equally as visually mind-blowing and emotionally-exiting. In fact, I found myself more involved by the scenes in which Speed’s family dynamics were explored (especially those involving his girlfriend, Trixie, played by a very sexy Christina Ricci) because they were every bit as high-octane as their acceleration-filled counterparts but also more thematically-substantive.

     Nonetheless, it remains hard to gripe about Speed Racer’s faults for too long because the movie is so innovative. Even if it isn’t entirely successful, Speed Racer continues endless push to reinvent the way audiences think about cinema in the conventional sense—far more than the Wachowskis’ lauded Matrix ever did, anyway—and that’s always a good thing for the art-form as a whole. Yes, Iron Man may still be the best popcorn-flick released in Summer 2008 thus far, but Speed Racer makes for a well-deserved runner-up.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 5.11.2008

Screened on: 5.9.2008 at Grauman's Chinese in Hollywood, CA.


Speed Racer is rated PG and runs 135 minutes.

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