Laura CliffordMy earliest introductions to Japanese anime came by way of the Anglicized version of the very popular Nippon animation series, “Mahha GoGoGo.” The minds behind the phenomenally profitable “Matrix” franchise, Andy and Larry Wachowski, have taken on the task of bringing the animation to the big (and I mean IMAX) screen with the live action adventure, “Speed Racer.”
This estimated $120 million budget actioner is a weird amalgam of eye-popping (my eyes popped no fewer than three times, a very disconcerting feeling) computer special effects, retro art direction, hokey dialog, inspirational family bonding and the complete telling of the life of Speed and the rest of the Racer family. I can see a market with those who fondly remember the TV series (old codgers like me), those introduced to it more recently and older kids. But, the flick’s 132-minute run time is going to be problematic for younger tykes, despite the aforementioned popping eye stuff.
For me, the a-bit-too-long adventure yarn does do a good job in telling the life story of our hero, starting off with the early days when young Speed (Nicholas Elia) idolized his race pro brother, Rex (Scott Porter), sneaking off to the track to watch his hero race. It jumps to the present day as conflicted Speed (Emil Hirsch) battles with the demon that his beloved brother went corrupt and died in a fiery crash. Speed must make racing pure again and gets assistance in this mission by the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).
The special F/X are dazzling but are just effects without much intellect. The frequent fantastical race sequences are well choreographed, from a CGI viewpoint, and tell me that the Wachowski boys watched Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” more than a few times. The fast paced interludes also includes a kickass fight with the Racer team – Speed, Pops (John Goodman), mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry), younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), Speed’s confident and squeeze Trixie (Christina Ricci) and the family’s pet chimp, Chim Chim (Willie and Kenzie) – going up against all manner of bad guys (and there are a LOT of bad guys).
The copious action is punctuated by well-spaced talking head moments as the Racer family (including Mom (Susan Sarandon)) bond, discuss the past, present and future and generally fill us in on the life stories of Speed and his clan. This isn’t high drama but flashy camp and the cast of veteran character actors is well suited to give the caricature players both depth and humor. The bevy of really mean bad guys that are hired to take Speed out of the game – for good – provide a good reason for the Racer Team to fight back, blow for blow.
The run time for “Speed Racer” seems like a risk to me. It is too long for the younger kids, especially during the slow, info-providing scenes, but the older kids and adults should handle it fine. They even work the old SR theme – Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer! Go! – into the score (by Michael Giacchino) which brought back memories. I would not call it a great movie but it is pretty darn good. I give it a B+.
Laura did not see this film.
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