Directed by The Wachowski Brothers.
Written by The Wachowski Brothers. Based on the TV series
by Tatsuo Yoshida.
Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman and Matthew
Release Year: 2008
Review Date: 5/11/08
When I first heard that the guys who gave us
"The Matrix" were trying their hand at "Speed Racer", I thought that
this would be really cool...for about five minutes. "Speed
Racer" is the classic one-trick pony--it was only interesting
because of the car, a futuristic gadget-driven thing called the Mach
5. Otherwise, "Speed Racer" is famous mainly for its dubbing
here in the US, and for its theme song, but that really isn't why
you watched the show back in the freakin' 1960s.
Somebody, somewhere thought that this would
be good to make into a two-hour feature film, one that apparently
cost north of $150 million, one that has no legitimate Movie Stars
and one that is a PG family action film. The result is
surprisingly good given how much it has going against it, but still,
nothing out of this world.
Emile Hirsch does the best he can with the
role of Speed Racer--yes, that's his first and last name--the
greatest young driver on the planet. His team, including his
father/manager (John Goodman), chopper observer/love interest Trixie
(Christina Ricci), mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry), Mom (Susan
Sarandon), brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), and chimp Chim-Chim, are
all on a mission--to beat out an evil race conglomerate owner named
Royalton (Roger Allam) and eventually prove Speed's dominance on the
race tracks around the globe. Throughout this film, we get to
meet Speed, learn more about his family relationships, see how his
brother Rex met his fate when Speed was a youth, and meet a few
other characters that will become important later in this film and
future sequels, like Racer X (Matthew Fox from "Lost").
The name of the game in "Speed Racer" is the
racing; the race scenes are well done, even if they are sometimes
comically illogical and a little predictable. That's because
the special effects of the cars, tracks and scenery are something to
behold; Jon Gaeta, who was the visual effects supervisor with the
Wachowski Brothers on the "Matrix" films, once again weaves magic
with a combination of the color palette from "Dick Tracy" with some
of the adventure settings of "Tron" or other futuristic film
landscapes...the result is really cool in digital projection and I'm
sure it would be cool on IMAX screens, too. This will be one
film you will need to own on Blu-Ray when it comes out on DVD later
this year just for that reason.
But, after the special effects, some great
comedy provided by the two commentators of the film's final race
sequence (Richard Roundtree--Shaft, for heaven's sake!--drops a few
dimes during these moments that will make you laugh out loud) and
Ricci's eyes, which are strangely magnetic no matter how good or bad
the film is, "Speed Racer" is uneven. For the first 45 minutes
or so, I was actually fighting off sleep; I'm sure that some of this
is tied to when I saw the film at 3 in the afternoon, but the rest
is that the film is a slow starter. The scenes between races
are not well done; the action is predictably tame, since the film is
clearly geared towards children and families in general; we get way
too much of Speed's kid brother and a freakin' chimp; the soundtrack
is blah, a major shock given how good the soundtrack was in "The
The filmmakers also fall in love with
constantly flying tight close-ups of other characters from right to
left across the screen or vice versa when someone is talking or
thinking or driving. This gimmick is cool early, and the
effectiveness of this really gets stale until the end of the film.
Also, it seems like dozens of drivers get blown up in their cars;
this mixed with the tame nature of the film's other scenes or a
fight scene mid-film don't seem to jibe at all...is Speed actually
killing other drivers all movie long? Sometimes he seems to be
perfectly fine with this; sometimes he isn't. I was really
confused on this point.
At the end of the day, the net effect of
"Speed Racer" was certainly positive. It is not great but it
is a nice ride, and on the big screen, the special effects really
worked for me. However, the film (relatively speaking) bombed
this past weekend, only making $20 million in its first weekend...by
contrast, "Iron Man" did $100 million its first weekend. With
all of the other big flicks coming soon, don't sit on this one too
long if you really want to see it.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard