Monday, May 12, 2008

Movie Review: Speed Racer

Speed Racer presented an interesting decision for the writers who were remaking this cartoon classic. For as much as I loved Speed Racer as a kid, it's painful to watch the original cartoon today. It's full of paper-thin characters, awful dialogue, and illogical action. So the writers were left with this choice: do something completely authentic and reminiscent of the original, or make a good movie.

They chose authenticity, and they nailed it. As you can imagine, that's a mixed blessing.

The running time is far too long...21/2 hours of juvenile characters and dialogue is definitely tiresome. Every appearance of Spritle and Chim-Chim was cringe-worthy, while fights that include John Goodman slapping a headlock on a ninja don't even border on the believeable.

But all that said, and it needs to be said because I don't want to give anyone the impression that this was a good film, the races themselves are pure magic. Especially if you watched and enjoyed the original, the race scenes capture the essence of Speed Racer completely. The unrealistic, yet consistent, physics of jumping, spinning, and turns of the cars are identical to the original. Details like the lettered buttons are duplicated faithfully (Disclaimer: I was never a Speed Racer nerd, so I'm working from ancient memory when I say this. If you find discrepancies when you research, bully for you...but it jived perfectly with my memory, so it worked for me) down to the single button that mysteriously deployed all four jump pads, or just the front two jump pads, or just the right or left pads, depending on the situation. The Fuji race and the dash through the ice caves are especially stunning scenes visually, and alone they were worth the price of admission for me.

My five-year-old son loved it, once we got past the initial mash-up of flashbacks and present-day action that totally confused him. My three-year-old daughter wolfed down an improbable amount of popcorn and soda before promptly falling asleep. And, in spite of all the flaws, I was glad to be there. To hear my son wonder aloud (is Racer X really Speed's brother?) the same deep question that racked my own five-year-old brain made the entire experience worthwhile.

Because the writers went for authenticity over quality, this movie will appeal greatly to my exact demographic - adults that watched and enjoyed the original cartoon who now have young children. But that very authenticity will make it much less appealing to people that didn't watch the original, because the flashy visuals by themselves can't overcome the weak characters and dialogue. Keep that in mind when you make your decision. For me, it was worth it...but Speed Racer won't work for everyone.


At 6:08 PM, Anonymous patrick said...

The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer... the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard


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