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GO, SPEED RACER

 

picture - Speed RacerMovie Review

by Kevin Bowen

published May 9, 2008

 

Speed Racer

rated PG

now playing nationwide

 

I mean this well: Watching The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer is like taking a nostalgia trip back to 1982 for the otherworldly lavishness of Tron. It has that same extravagant visual pop, the same rocket-speed computer car races, fueled with 25 years worth of more advanced technology. The stunning candy-color animation resembles the pied wonderlands of fifties MGM musicals. It’s like someone handed Vincente Minnelli a Lite-Brite and a computer and told him to create a ripping summer action anime. Amazing is the only word.

 

The film is more than just an optical feast. It’s a radical dismemberment of space and time, defying and re-developing rules of cinematic physics. Witness the dazzling Casa Cristo car race, a long and winding chase across desert, mountains, and iced peaks, with the best Bond-villain weaponry ever crammed under a hood. The perspective snaps from one image to another, one place to another, one time to another, one person to another. It constantly re-invents the screen without ever confusing. Or relenting.

 

It’s true, the film should prune about 20 minutes; should rely less on the chubby boy Spridel and his chimp for sporadically effective comic relief; should have a plot with fewer points, that amounts to more than a Keith Olbermann anti-corporate screed. The film’s simple-hearted family story shouldn’t work, but it worked on me up until it kind of did. These are kitschy roles, but the talented actors (Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon) never surrender to being in “only a summer movie.” Speed Racer is not an actor’s film, but they never act like it isn’t.

 

Speed Racer resurrects the cult-classic cartoon, often credited as the first piece of visually striking Japanese anime to cross the Pacific. A baby-faced teen driving sensation, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), rises quickly through the ranks of the World Racing League. These races do not take place on skid-marked, gray-asphalt ovals. They zoom through neon-trimmed roller-coaster courses, with cars spinning, leaping, and burning megabyte rubber.

 

As an up-and-comer, evil corporate interests surround the family and try to pry Speed away from his home-based racing team. One headcase of a CEO suffers through family pancakes to whisk Speed to his Willy Wonka automotive factory. Little does the innocent Speed know that he and a group of fixers control the sport to prop up stock prices. The type of fixers who feed their enemies to rainbow colored piranhas. The type of piranhas who enjoy being well-fed pets.  

 

I’m sure there are critics ready to pummel it. Ready to claim it’s too much. Ready to don the uniforms of the Overkill Police, keeping the megaplexes safe for the next Judd Apatow movie with a no-sex-please- we’re-British visual style. As if the Wachowskis, those Matrix devils, have offended the cinematic gods by making their films visually revelatory. As if their hubris has awakened the volcano, and the lava is about to bury the village.

 

But what a volcano this is. Like Mother Nature’s ultimate show. Colorful, for sure. Explosive, too. Sometimes indiscriminate and destructive, but finally nourishing to the cinematic earth. At least as nourishing as Mike and Ikes can be.

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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