a critiQal film review Speed Racer (2008)

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  • Blu-Ray

Plot: When racecar driver Speed Racer (Hirsch) turns down a lucrative contract with the underhanded Royalton Industries, he must beat Royalton at their own game. With the support of his family and his loyal girlfriend, Trixie (Ricci), Speed teams with his one-time rival—the mysterious Racer X (Fox)—to win the race that had taken his brother’s life: the death-defying, cross-country rally known as The Crucible.

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  • ...one cartoon adaptation that makes even Scooby-Doo look like it may be worth another look.

After kicking our Summer At The Movies ’08 off with a bang with last week’s , we were hoping Speed Racer, the Wachowski Brothers follow-up to , would keep our summer going strong.

Emile Hirsch stars as Speed Racer, a kid with only one dream – to drive a racecar. While Emile’s Speed spends most of his time behind the wheel going ridiculous speeds – and thus only has to grimace or grin – Emile somehow never lets the viewer forget that he’s just in front of a green screen. Maybe it’s the lack of enthusiasm in his eyes, or the spark of anything exciting missing from his reactions.

Off the track, it gets worse, as Emile makes his acting in the awful look inspired. He just seems…uninspired. No matter what role he plays, he tries to pull off the “so good he’s not acting” bit – except he comes across more inexperienced in acting than anything else. He’s supposed to be playing a man with a dream – yet his performance comes across as if he has no aspirations whatsoever, on the track or on the set.

The same can be said for most of the other cast members as well. As John Goodman puts on a show of overacting the likes of which haven’t been seen since he was teaming with Roseanne, Susan Sarandon (looking like she’s trying to make the best of the bad situation she finds herself in) very rarely gets to actually step up to the plate – and then only to deliver some ridiculous cliched “doting mother” quotes – before fading into the background once again.

Matthew Fox literally hides for most of the film behind a mask. As the film progresses, the viewer gets the distinct impression he’s hiding behind the mask so he won’t be recognized as being a part of this cheese-fest more than any other reason.

Christina Ricci, looking almost odder than she did back in her Addams Family days, does her best to liven up her role. While her acting isn’t much better than the rest of the cast, she delivers most of her lines with a quirky grin, letting the viewers know she’s in on the joke. She even making her “cool beans” catchphrase sound just a touch ironic.

Out of the entire cast, she looks like she’s the only one who understands the absurdity they are creating, and is loving the chance to laugh at herself. Years later, she’ll be the one looking back and laughing at the ridiculousness of this film, while the others simply shake their heads and moan in despair at how wrong things went.

Maybe the Wachowski Brothers knew how bad the acting and dialogue were going to be, so were relying instead on the one thing they figured would be able to get them out of any mess – namely, a whole slew of special effects. While the special effects are definitely out in abundance, and many are eye-popping, they tend to go for quantity rather than quality.

Apart from the abundance making the special effects seem almost commonplace, by the time the special effects go into an even higher gear, the viewers don’t care. They’ve given up on the characters from almost the first sequence, so seeing them tossed into supposed danger (more on the supposed later) doesn’t bring any thrills – no matter how good the effects are.

While the film is mainly about fighting a corrupt system, one of the subplots focuses on the evil corporate guy trying to win a race so he can promote his new engine. While this is somewhat plausible (if not for the over-the-top evilness of the guy – including an actual comparison to the Devil), the guy seems to be missing something that becomes abundantly clear to the audience as the movie progresses. Forget engines, viewers think – focus on marketing the Mach 5’s virtual indestructibility.

But wait – what indestructibility, one may ask? In one race, Speed’s car looks to have been totaled – yet he uses it again for another race, and it’s back to it’s pristine condition (with no mention of him switching cars). After that race (which the car makes it through A-OK), there is then a building montage as the family gets together to build a new car for Speed – even mentioning at the start he no longer has a car. Huh?

Even if he did have to change cars each race (and as the above shows, that’s a big “if”), it’s a wonder his car is even able to make it past the first turn, much less the end of the race. As his fellow racers’ cars blow up with increasing frequency, his car – despite being under direct attack from multitudes of opponents – usually manages to make it through with nothing more than a few paint chips and some dirt and grime on his nice finish.

As the viewer notices this, it makes them less worried than ever that Speed might not make it through the race (how can he lose in a virtually indestructible car?)…and it makes them think evil villain Royalton is that much more of a buffoon, since he can’t see the marketing angle that’s literally right in front of him. After all, since normal cars can get easily damaged in even minor, low-speed collisions, marketing a car that was made of much stronger stuff would seem like a no-lose situation, and would seem much easier than all that Royalton goes through on screen.

The special effects are impressive, that’s true – but for Speed Racer there’s nothing behind the flash. With it’s overacting coupled with boughts of complete ridiculousness (John Goodman can fight? And he doesn’t need a Twinkie or even get slightly winded, even after fighting off numerous foes? The family has a trained chimpanzee that’s apparently the youngest son’s best friend – and no one bats an eye? Everyone in the family – nay, the entire film – is apparently trained in martial arts?), it’s already pretty bad.

Toss in a plot that would have an episode of “Pokemon” reaching and too many confusing – and yes, annoying – flashbacks and flash-forwards that leave the viewer disoriented, Speed Racer is one cartoon adaptation that makes even look like it may be worth another look.

For those of you who thought Matt LeBlanc’s Ed was one of the best movies of all time – but didn’t have enough special effects – Speed Racer is waiting for you. For the rest of you, don’t waste your time on this fluffy Velveeta®. Save your money or go see again…otherwise, this movie will rob you of 2 hours of your life you’ll never get back – just like it did to us.

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