Sitting through Speed Racer is kind of like playing a video game. Actually, it's more like watching someone else play a video game. It's fun and exciting for about the first fifteen minutes, but the problem is that it runs for more than two hours. As the film opens, we're immediately thrust into a deliciously gooey world of vibrant colors, cool CG visuals and gravity-less properties... a place where Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka would feel at home playing ring-around-the-rosie. But then as the movie progresses, the sweet outer coating begins slowly melting away, exposing an under-plotted, over-stylized behemoth of a jumbled up mess. The Wachowski Brothers, in bringing the 1960s Japanese manga inspired comic and anime cartoon to life, tapped into their overactive creative sides with hopes of bringing a style of auto racing beyond anything we know. But instead they've left us with what happens when a kid gets sick on Starburst candy.
A full confession here: I was never really a fan of Speed Racer when it aired back in the day. It always seemed a little too stylistically prehistoric - even for the '60s and emotionally slow-witted for me. But what better opportunity to pick up a new convert! The Wachowski's employed a well-rounded stable of Hollywood's best (veterans and up-and-comers alike), and brought on a wiz special effects team to get the splashiest of visual graphics. But sadly, rather than reenergizing the Speed Racer legacy, they end up just puppeting the fine actors around in the splashiest of environments. I'm not introduced to what originally drew the legions of fans to the series. Instead, I'm numbed into a stupor not unlike an ice cream headache.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the World Racing League's wunderkind who also has a tight family, Mom (Susan Sarandon), Pops (John Goodman), little brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), doe-eyed girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and family pet chimpanzee, Chim Chim. It's a racing family, so all are involved in one way or another by surrounding Speed with everything he needs to succeed on the track. Whether it's Mom's nourishing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the mechanical handiwork of Pops, or Trixie's close observations from a helicopter above the action, Speed is always able to keep his focus where it's needed most, behind the wheel of Mach 6, the family's sleek and thundering race car. From the original series we know that Trixie is like a member of the Racer family and is in their home most of the time, but it's a little disturbing when, in the real life version, she's there even at night.
The central conflict comes from the corruption that embodies modern days sports, here in the personification of billionaire tycoon, E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allams) whose racing team wants to hire Speed to race under its banner. But when Speed learns of the true dishonest nature of the league, he refuses, which sets Royalton out to destroy Speed and his family's racing business. Speed's only recourse is to race his way back to the top of the heap.
All actors perform quite admirably, but it's Hirsch and Goodman who stand out in their roles, especially in some of the film's most tender moments. We buy into the emotional impact when Speed tells Pops "racing's the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something." ESPN wasn't able to pull off that line in its Dale Earnhardt special, but here it works. In fact, the family parts of the film are where the Wachowski's find most of their success. But unfortunately, Speed Racer is a racing film.
Speaking of racing, there's appropriately a lot of it. But unfortunately, it's all a convoluted mess. Cars fly, flip, spin and turn through a dizzying assemblage of loop-the-loops, corkscrew spins, and other death defying curves the Wachowski's call it Car-Fu, an extreme amalgamation of martial arts and full-contact motor sport. It's a bit difficult to tell whether these scenes are real or CG (actually a combination of both), but regardless, it's like we're watching a feature-length advertisement for a video game, rather than electrifying races that have beginnings and endings. There's no thrill of victory and no agony of defeat. Instead, just more cars flying through the air, climbing up walls of ice, and cartwheeling before bursting into flames. A sports action expert would have gone a long way here. As it is, the signal to noise ratio is way out of whack. It may be an appropriate film for all the family to watch, but unfortunately, it won't be an entertaining one.
Speed Racer is NOW available FOR DOWNLOAD and ON DEMAND
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Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English SDH
Language and Sound: English: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; tour of the movie set; making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes featurette.
o Speed Racer: Supercharged (15:00) - Documentary where we meet the drivers of the WRL and explore the film's cars and racetracks.
o Spritle in the Big Leagues (14:30) - Paulie Litt gives us a behind-the-scenes tour in which we learn about how the film was made. We explore things like physical sets, computer design, martial arts training, and more.
* Digital copy - There's also the option to purchase a digital copy of the film via a peel-off sticker on the front of the slipcase that provides a code to purchase and download. The download will be available in iTunes and Amazon Unbox on the same day as the DVD release. This is actually a good idea so that those who wish to purchase a digital copy can do so, rather than being sold a bag of goods disguised as a two-disc set.
Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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