GO, SPEED RACER
published May 9,
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
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
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
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