Summer Movies We Love: Speed Racer

Speed Racer is the young, hotshot kid that’s going to shake up the world of racing. With the help of his loving family and hot girlfriend (?), he’ll be able to stop the stock scheme of some villain and change the face of race car driving forever.

Will Speed find the will to defeat some evil corporate schmuck? Since this is intended to be a kid’s movie, yes, you bet he will!

Why We Love It:

Dick Tracy Sin City The Matrix The Wizard of Oz + Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Wall Street (yes, that Wall Street) + whatever visually eye-titillating movie you can think of = Speed Racer. This film is totally “cool beans,” and that, while featuring flavors of those movies listed, is its own colorfully bombastic beast.

This movie is reviled by so, so many, and my response to them is to “get that weak shit off my track!” Okay, okay, enough with the great pun jokes. But when it comes to discussing a film like Speed Racer, it’s nearly impossible to write about it without thinking of how to work in many of its hilarious lines; as I’m writing these words right now, I’m looking at its quotes section on IMDB to see which line I can work in next. But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of zingers to remember after viewing the film. I mean, who could really forget a line like, “Inspector detector suspected foul play”? What type of sick minds write something like that? WHO ACTUALLY SAYS SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!

Only someone in the crazily imaginative world the Wachowskis created with their box office bomb. Just by reading a single piece of the dialogue on paper, one gets a crystal clear sense of what type of universe this is: a cartoon one. I recall, upon the film’s release in ’08, some… well, most — just go look at its abysmal 38% RT score — criticizing the movie for not being “realistic,” and for being “cheesy.” Would someone criticize Schindler’s List for being depressing or for not being funny enough? Speed Racer is not supposed to be realistic. It’s not supposed to be edgy. It’s supposed to be cheesy. It’s supposed to be heightened beyond one’s imagination. And it sure as hell is supposed to appeal to your inner child.

Not in that cheap, fake nostalgic way, either. So many filmmakers only make movies about the films they love, and they always feel more like annoying fanboy letters than their own movies. At least once a year we get a director blatantly tipping his gigantic hat to movies that appeal to both him and the nerds who are definitely going to attend and eat up his nostalgic love letter, but that’s not very interesting filmmaking. It’s nice and well-intentioned, sure, but not very original or engaging.

What the Wachowskis did was original. They don’t try to pull in their nerd audience in by pandering, going, “Look! We like the same movies you nerds did as kids! Love us!” They tried to pull their audience into Speed Racer by appealing to one’s child sensibilities. The directing duo didn’t just make a film for kids, but one for all of us who have a fondness for what fun meant to us when we were eight years old.

Who didn’t love pretending to be in a cartoon? Who didn’t treat their pet like an actual person? And who didn’t fantasize about getting a dream girl who was into the same things that you were? Trixie is the type of gal we all wish we had before we actually knew what we were supposed to do to a woman, and the whole film sticks to that type of endearing innocence.

Speed and Trixie look like they’re supposed to be early 20-somethings, and yet their sex life and boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is total non grata. We don’t even see Speed kiss her until the final minutes of the film, and that moment is treated with such importance that it’s almost as if he never tried to make a move before. Even with their relationship being so clean and childlike, Trixie is constantly over at his house, for no clear reason.

There’s a scene that involves a late night discussion between Pops and Speed, and the whole family is eavesdropping in on the conversation… including Trixie. What’s this girl doing over at 2 a.m.? Does she live there? Wouldn’t Speed’s parents find that odd? In the real world, yes, of course they would.

But this isn’t the real world.

Even on a basic logistical and relationship level, this is a cartoon through and through. Anyone over 50 who didn’t grow up with anime or Saturday morning cartoons juiced up with all types of colors and energy won’t find an easy time getting into this universe. This is the type of movie that deserves some sort of age limit.

One objective quality that those old bastards who vomited all over the movie must acknowledge: Speed Racer goes for a heart of gold, and the Wachowskis love these good-hearted people. Speed is an optimistic, family loving, morally sound kid without a mean (or horny) bone in his body. When it comes to Mom and Pop, one couldn’t ask for more adoring and supportive parents. And, as already stated, Trixie couldn’t be a cooler girlfriend, despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to give any.

The only character the Wachowskis don’t seem to be in love with is Spritle. He is – to bring another cartoon into the discussion – the Roger Rabbit of the movie. Spritle annoys everyone, and soon enough, he begins to drive you mad as well. Early on I started to hope that there would be a scene involving Speed taking this kid down to the track, where he would be gruesomely run over in an “accident.” Sadly, that scene didn’t make it into the final cut…

And that must have been the only scene not to make it into the final cut. The fact that this is a 135-minute long kid’s movie is both baffling and awesome at the same time. It’s a bit bloated, but considering the technical triumph of seemingly creating about 1,000 new colors, who cares?

What one should care about, though? The great kiddy violence.

Speed Racer connects to the imagination and mindset of a kid, especially the violent side. In this story, when a kid talks trash about your brother, you punch him in the face. When an annoying British girl calls your man a “retard”, you punch her in the face. These are all actions that a kid would take, or ones that a kid would at least want to. This isn’t a male wish fulfillment film, but a boy wish fulfillment film.

Moments We Fell In Love With:

The David Mamet dialogue converted for children:

“Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy!”

“It doesn’t matter if racing never changes. What matters is if we let racing change us!”

“You poor, naïve chump. I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that load of sickening schmaltz!”

“Terrible what passes for a ninja these days.”

“Pancakes are love.”

“It’s Racer X, The Harbinger of Boom!”

“All that matters is power, and the unassailable might of money!”

Final Thoughts:

Speed Racer runs longer than it should and clearly has moments that should’ve been chopped out early on in the editing room, but even its overlong running time isn’t a big enough problem to ruin the excitement of seeing a terrifically ass-kicking performance by Matthew Fox, Emile Hirsch’s nice “gee-whiz” kid charms, and Christina Ricci giving off smiles powerful enough to make you want to dump your girlfriend without a second’s hesitation.

Stop picturing Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan and read more Movies We Love

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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