I recently sat down and watched Speed Racer, a film by the Wachowski Brothers, starring Emile Hirsch. My quick and dirty review is – the visuals are amazing, but that’s about all this flick has going for it! 

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Speed Racer (2008)

When I was in college, the Speed Racer cartoon from the 1960’s had a bit of a revival. My roommates and I were gaga over Japanese anime and Speed Racer was one of the early introductions for us noobs. We loved watching the adventures of Speed, Trixie, Racer X and the Mach V. When I heard that the Wachowski Brothers were taking on Speed Racer I was ecstatic. Their terrific work on The Matrix gave me hope that they would do the cartoon justice. It’s interesting how this film turned out.

The brief overview of the film is that it follows Speed Racer and his amazing car, the Mach V (IV and VI are in there too) as they race and battle bad guys. 

Let’s have a go at three Pluses and three Minuses for Speed Racer:

PLUSES:

  1. The visuals are absolutely spectacular. Colors are so vibrant that they make the screen glow. The whole film looks like a cartoon come to life. I cannot wait to watch this on a 4K projector and be awash in colors.
  2. Christina Ricci plays Speed’s love interest, Trixie. She is cute, spunky, and a force to be reckoned with. Christina does a great job with the character, she was a delight.speed_racer_trixie
  3. Action is fast and frenetic, the races are videogame-like. You can almost believe that the cars are racing on tracks that go inverted. It’s a wild ride. Even the fight scenes are fast and action packed.

MINUSES:

  1. The plot is so plain that it was a distraction. If you’ve ever watched one of the Speed Racer cartoons, you’ve seen the entire plot of this movie. I would have loved to see the Wachowski’s push the limits with the story. I guess they spent all of the budget on the graphics.
  2. Speed’s family is over the top, but not in a good way. John Goodman, an actor who I usually enjoy immensely, portrays Speed’s father in full The Flintstones mode. I expected steam to come from his collar when he got mad. Susan Sarandon is okay as Speed’s mother, but she is totally underutilized. Her scenes are way too few. Each time John and Susan were on screen, I kept thinking, “You’re so much better than this crap!” It was disappointing watching two greats work in this mush. I hope the paycheck was worth it! Then there were Speed’s brother and his pet monkey, Chim Chim, who were totally ridiculous bordering on offensive. They did have a few comedic moments that redeem them from the brink of being a bad distraction.
  3. Emile Hirsch is completely uninteresting as Speed Racer. He sulks through the entire film. I remember Speed from the comics as a determined and focused racer. In the film, Speed sulks when he doesn’t get his way. He’s more of a petulant child than focused racer. As an actor, Emile has the emotional range of dirt. Plain, boring old dirt. 

The Five Hallmarks of a Quality Action Flick (4/5):

  • NUDITY = Nope, nothing at all. It’s a movie based on a kid’s cartoon, so I would have been totally surprised if there were any nudity.
  • GEAR UP SCENE = Oh yeah! They build the Mark IV in order for Speed to compete in the climactic race. It’s a fun montage scene where everyone comes together to meet the challenge and get Speed racing again.
  • COOL CARS = All of the cars are amazing, especially Speed’s different Mach racers. I would love to see a real world version of the Mach IV race.
  • WEAPONS = The cars have some amazing technology, including offensive weapons that are used to great effect. Saws, jump jacks, and who knows what else. The action is hyperactive, the weaponry on the cars takes it to the limit.
  • MEANINGFUL FRIEND DIES = Speed’s brother’s death sets up the rest of the story. It’s a tragedy for the entire family, and a major emotional hurdle that Speed must overcome to reach his true potential.

My recommendation? I never saw this movie in the theater and, after watching it on TV, wish I had. The visual effects are beyond amazing, and IMAX version would likely blow my mind. But, barring a sudden re-release, should you watch this? Yeah, it’s a good movie for a rainy afternoon. Don’t expect much in the way of plot, they race cars to solve family issues. There are the occasional moments of levity, but I’d watch for the stunning visuals. Check it out if it rolls around on your cable lineup.

Have you seen “Speed Racer?” if so, what did you think?

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