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Speed Racer

Speed Racer

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD & BLU RAY SPECIAL FEATURES: Speed Pass (Blu-Ray Exclusive) – In movie application. Learn about character’s cars, race track etc…as well as interviews with Formula 1 and NASCAR drivers; Wonderful World of Racing (aka Mock Doc); Supercharged (Blu-Ray Exclusive); Car Fu Cinema (Blu-Ray Exclusive); Spritle in the Big Leagues.

THE first thing to say about Speed Racer is that it isn’t really a movie so much as a computer game played out on the big screen that offers numerous marketing opportunities.

Described as “groundbreaking” by its producer, Joel Silver, it’s the latest blockbuster from the Wachowski brothers [Larry and Andy] that’s designed to represent the first live-action anime movie, as well as a crowd-pleasing family adventure. In reality, it’s a head-spinning mess of an experience that marks a backward step for movie-making.

The film follows the fortunes of Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), a natural behind the wheel who is driven to succeed by the memory of his late brother, Rex Racer, whose death in a race has tarnished the image of the sport.

When approached by maniacal businessman Royalton (Roger Allam) to become part of his racing corporation, Speed Racer declines in favour of sticking with his father, Pops (John Goodman) and the traditional family values.

But the decision places him at odds with the ruthless promoter and he is forced to team up with his loyal girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to try and bring down Royalton’s corporation and expose the corruption within. To do so, he must also win both the cross-country Crucible and the end-of-season Grand Prix.

On paper, there’s plenty of potential. The film is based upon the classic cartoon series started in Japan and features the timeless tale of old fashioned family values against corporate bullying and greed. But it falls spectacularly victim to its own message when you consider both the big studio behind it and the box office and marketing windfall that’s already been anticipated.

What’s more, the Wachowskis seem to have forgotten how to direct coherently in their quest to continually create cinema that defies normal conventions. While The Matrix did manage to convince viewers of the alternative reality it operated within, Speed Racer never does for a second.

Created entirely using green screens, the film looks and feels manufactured. There’s no sense of danger as the cars bounce off each other, or defy gravity, depending on the situation, while the races are conducted at such breakneck speed that it’s difficult to tell what’s going on half the time.

The bright colours and textures, meanwhile, simply contribute to the disorientating sensation that threatens to become overwhelming, while the non-linear approach is similarly disconcerting as the directors opt to inter-cut flashback sequences with current race footage and observational commentary. Traditional editing values seem to have been thrown out the window completely.

Admittedly, the second hour improves on the first – once all the dull corporate intrigue is out the way and the races take centre stage – but by then audiences of every age will be struggling to maintain interest.

Of the cast, Hirsch (so good in Sean Penn’s Into The Wild) seems lost amid the CGI while the likes of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon go through the motions as his long-suffering parents. Allam is clearly enjoying his pantomime villain and Fox a suitably enigmatic mystery presence but the inclusion of an annoying younger brother for Speed Racer and a monkey are really infuriating and simply feel like a belated attempt to pander to younger viewers. Their presence is merely excruciating.

The overall result is an extremely tedious experience that crashes and burns long before it reaches the chequered flag.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK DVD Release: November 10, 2008