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"Speed Racer"

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 Fox.
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 Matrix."

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 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 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.

Rating:  Matinee


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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 "Office Space"). 

"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, 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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09