Speed Racer

Upon screening Speed Racer, the latest attempt by the brothers Wachowski to push the envelope of technical effects in filmmaking, I can come away with one two clear conclusions. On one hand, I have a headache. On the other hand, I have decided that the Wachowskis are sick, in more ways than I can count.

The headache came from the intense and exhausting experience that is Speed Racer. Even though its rating, its campy story and some of its silliness would lead you to believe it is a kids movie, it still sports some adult-size effects that create a sensory overload that would make even the likes of Michael Bay drool.

In all reality, it is the fierce and vibrantly colored special effects that take center stage, masking an otherwise cheesed-up plot and some so-so acting. Among the so-so performances is Emile Hirsch, who plays the title role, a young, level-headed up and comer in the World Racing League whose top priority is avenging the death of his older brother Rex by racing his heart out for his families homegrown team. If he can win and defeat the vicious big corporations who control everything, he just may change the face of racing forever.

Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci as Speed and Trixie

While Hirsch is an uninteresting and bland hero, the Wachowskis do alright keeping our attention moving in different directions by laying in sub-plot after sub-plot that involve Speed’s family, the corrupt sport of racing and a mysterious outsider named Racer X, played by Matthew Fox. All of this diversion is enough to confuse the kiddies, a fact that might cause them to get a little restless as the film pounds away with its 2 hour and 15 minute runtime.

It is that runtime that is perhaps the films biggest flaw, a testament to some directorial vanity. When I say that the Wachowskis are sick, I men that they have somehow contracted what I like to call the Peter Jackson Syndrome. This occurs when a visionary director, in this case we have two, does something special, usually with effects, that will really wow the audience – the only problem is that instead of using this new trick with restraint, as the Wachowskis did wonderfully with the first Matrix movie, they bombard the audience with it until everyone involved can’t take it any more. It is there way of saying “Hey, look at this cool new trick we have… How would you like to see a lot of it?” With Speed Racer, that trick is the full-focus cameras that create the closest experience we may ever have to being inside of a cartoon. The shoving it down our throats part comes when we are forced to sit through over 2 hours of it and it leaves us exhausted.

Speed Racer delivers an intense visual experience

And for those who are looking to take the little ones out to see Speed Racer this weekend, exhaustion might not be a good thing. But should you decide to bear this film’s overload of effects and campiness, you will ultimately be treated to a fun ride. Despite the fact that it is a film that whacks you over the head for two hours with cool effects, there is no denying that it is wicked fun. Sure, the acting is a little silly and the plot is hard to follow, but the racing scenes are nothing short of breathtaking. It is clear that the Wachowskis never set out to show us that they can provide a deep story with rich characters – they set out to make a sensory experience the likes of which we have never seen. It is that fact that makes Speed Racer an intense, fast-paced ride that is a lot of fun – I just wish that they would have made it shorter.

Grade: B-


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