Speed Racer is a live action movie based on a Japanese cartoon television series from the 60s called “Speed Racer.”
I would’ve thought that was obvious, but based on the reviews, I’ve got to wonder what the hell these people were expecting. They’re fanning themselves with their press kits, complaining of “nausea” at all the colors and motion (in a movie called Speed Racer) and bemoaning the incoherent script (in a movie based on a 60s Japanese cartoon). Did you guys never bother to watch the original cartoon? Or any one of the trailers, for that matter?
The movie is an almost slavishly faithful homage to its source material, right down to the chonk chonk chonk sound whenever the Mach 5 jumps, and the inclusion of both English and Japanese lyrics in both of the movie’s heavily-sampled theme songs. When the source material is “Speed Racer,” that means nonsensical wackiness, ridiculously amped-up driving, and slapstick.
When someone complains about the screenwriting in a movie with an annoying little brother named Spritle with a pet chimpanzee named Chim-Chim who dress identically, you just have to smack yourself in the forehead and ask “Why don’t they get it?”
I said “almost faithful” because the overall look of the movie is way beyond what the original animators could have ever accomplished, assuming they’d wanted to. The environments look like the cities of the Star Wars prequels with the saturation knob turned past its maximum, and the race tracks are filled with flashing corkscrews and Hot Wheels loops. It feels like the Wachowskis’ homage to the show they wanted to see, instead of the show as it actually existed. You can also see the Wachowskis’ influence in the casting — all of the side characters are straight from a Matrix-like Eurotrash freak show.
And they dropped the ball with Inspector Detector; I was actually kind of looking forward to seeing them try to do that beard in a live-action movie.
Overall, the movie’s got exactly what I was expecting from a live action Speed Racer, with a few nice surprises. A bee catapult! A weird Zoetrope tunnel with an animated zebra! Their own version of the mammoth car! Fight scenes with the anime-style speed line backgrounds! The ominous Maltese Ice Cave! Even the main bad guy sounds like a typical Speed Racer villain. I was disappointed the Alpha Team wasn’t included, but I guess you can’t have everything.
Although in a movie this long, you’d expect it to have everything — it’s over two hours long, and it should’ve been about 45 minutes shorter. The scene-to-scene pacing is all right, since the manic episodes are balanced with slower moments. The problem is that the slower moments drag on forever. It’s as if they weren’t just trying to mix up the pacing, but were actually trying to make a “real” movie, with a plot and everything, which was their downfall.
The other big problem is that everything gets repeated so often that it stops being cool. Everything in the movie is so unapologetically fake, it’s surprising that the race sequences have any feeling to them at all. But the first time you see a car flip over another one, it’s impressive. Then they do it again, about a billion times. It’s the same with the anime-background fight scenes, and the montage sequences with a character in profile panning across the foreground, and the heart-to-heart speeches Speed has with Mom, Pops, and pretty much every other character.
You get a real sense that this movie wasn’t just made about speed, but made on it as well. And that they just refused to cut anything out. Pretty much the entire thing reminded me of the second Matrix movie, in that it was just a hyperactive dump of ideas, many of them good, but without any regard for the overall story and pacing.
But still, I liked it. It’s goofy, manic, spectacle, with more than a few genuinely cool moments. And best of all, it struck me as being full of genuine affection, or at least nostalgia, for something the filmmakers grew up with. Poop jokes and all.