Saturday, June 6, 2009

Speed Racer

"Speed Racer" (Andy Wachowski/Larry Wachowski, 2008) "This will change everything." said an editor friend of mine. He was referring to the cutting style, I think—the fast blink-of-an-eye editing that has become the norm for action movies, to the point where it seems like a competition to see just how little footage can be used to create an impression that the eye-ball will retain so that an idea can be processed.

The cutting style for "
Speed Racer" stills allows a thought to sink in your head, even if that thought is: "That's a complicated move—not that it matters."

Crowds stayed away in droves from "Speed Racer" and it's just as well. It's another of those all-flash-no-substance muddled-message
Wachowski Brothers films. But it looks pretty—an all-CGI-spit-shined, "there's no there-there" green-screened hybrid of live-action and cartoon and a fair imitation of the limited animation style of the Japanese cartoon that inspired it, in all ways a cotton candy movie.

But it's also a kid's movie—race-winners get a bottle of milk to drink at the Winner's Circle—with curse words and crudities (Bad guy Snake-Oiler says at one point in a race "Let's pinch theses turds off!"), kids giving the finger, and an adult's curdled cynicism.
All the heroes are naively game, but the movie regards them as something to be pitied. It's a paeon to the independent spirit that conspires in the shadows, and it teaches kids the Golden Rule: "Screw them before they screw you."

Welcome to Dick Cheney's "Speed Racer."

But that's the way it is with the Wachowski Brothers. Fanboys like to see them as deep-thinkers, but you don't get far beyond the shallows before drowning in ambiguity. Folks crowed over the FX of "
The Matrix," and the veneer of the thing implied that it was a "Spartacus-frees-the-slaves" liberal message movie, but it was basically a fascist power fantasy where a superman saves the day as a Master of the Universe. And the crowd goes wide-eyed grateful for the benevolence of their new dictator. Leni Riefenstahl has brethren in the Wachowski Brothers.

But, it's just a movie, Ingrid; How is it?

Technically brilliant
in recreating a simplified reality with as much respect for photo-realism as anime, and no respect for the laws of physics, as demonstrated by a series of race-tracks that seem more like clamped-together Hot-Wheels patterns on which the cars cantilever and skid more often than they seem to be under any power other than centrifugal force. One begins to suspect that subliminal messages are flashed in front of our eyes in the form of "racing ads" and the whole film is dunked in Day-glo colors that haven't seen the silver screen since Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy." Too much use is made of travelling wipes in transitions—things float by taking the old scene with them (one of the devices is a race car driver on fire! Funny, huh, kids?) The story is the basic "evil man" story of the cartoons transported to multi-corporation conglomerates trying to control everything, and an awful lot of time is spent showing just how eee-vil and corrupt (and surrounded by cool stuff) the bad guys are. The movie is over-crowded with incident and made busy with jokey things on the soundtrack with such regularity that one can start to predict when a "goose" will happen, such is the clockwork dependability of the movie.

Not that it matters, but how's the acting? Well, the best are old pros John Goodman and Susan Sarandon who know how to best exploit weak material. Christina Ricci puts in a spunky try, but Emile Hirsch, who is terrific playing real human beings is at a loss realistically playing a type with conviction. Matthew Fox plays "Racer X" anonymously, as if thinking it not worth fighting against the costume. And the kid playing Sprightle (Paulie Litt)is annoying as hell, but at least he's a professional kid, as all the others in the cast speak with mush-mouths. The monkey obeys orders well. Richard Roundtree makes a welcome appearance; he may be the coolest guy on Earth.

It's a movie that just ruins your day.
The snarky cynicism and bad feelings can be summed up in this exchange that was probably going through the Wachowski's minds throughout making this car-crash of a movie.

"The fans love it, don't they?"
"They do, God help them."

"Go Speed Racer, Go!" ("far away from us")

(Wilhelm Alert at 00:46:43)


Chris K said...

This is one of the best family movies that we have seen. The emotional father/son, mother/son talks are tear inducing, and the feel-good theme of hard working independant thinking people taking on the impossible odds of defeating multi-billion dollar corporations is a common underdog theme.

If you don't like it because it is a Wachowski film, that is your loss, but if you were to actually give it an honest shake and rewatch it without your preconceptions, you may just find that it is very exciting and enjoyable.

It is sad to see such a fun movie disrespected by low-life bloggers like this.

Please, think for yourself, and add it to your Netflix rotation. It really is worth the 90 minutes of your life.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Thanks, Chris, for the comment.

Where to start...

First off, a Fact-check. The movie isn't 90 minutes. It's 2 hours, 15 minutes. That's by the clock. By any other designation it would simply be labeled "interminable."

Your scenario of putting it on the Netflix cue is exactly how it came to me. I'd been anticipating "Speed Racer" due to the eagerness of my editor friend, but didn't get a chance to see it in the theater, it disappeared so quickly (whereas things like "G-Force" and "Monsters vs. Aliens" manage to be top-grossing movies--why do you think that is? Quality, maybe?). Still, I wanted to see it. Who, besides the vast majority of discriminating audiences, wouldn't?

I didn't like "Speed Racer" on the basis that it was a Wachowski film, I didn't like it because it was a bad film. "Technically brilliant" as I said (you read the review, right?) but as a "family film?" "The Addams Family," maybe. I'm all for movies that show Mom and Pop maintaining the store through the devotion of the neighborhood, and the "little guy" triumphing over a monopoly...but not by means of beating the crap out of them, as this film would have it. And did you really think it was "family-oriented" with kids giving the finger and crudities all around? Family-oriented? This thing was dark—not as dark as your average "Harry Potter" film, but dark, nonetheless.

If you've read me steadily (intuition says you haven't) you'd know that I take films each on their own. I may have pre-dispositions, but if a film works, I say it. I think anybody is capable of making a good film-with some it just takes longer, and I,m still waiting for the Wachowski's. I'm not a big fan of Quentin Tarentino, but when he does good work (and he can!), I'll say it. If I don't like it, and it's part of the problem with the film-makers' previous work, I'll point it out as a systematic problem with this director.

This is how I "think for myself." It works the other way, too. If I'm a slavish "Matrix" fan, I'm not going to go drooling over "Speed Racer," too. If I did, I'd be writing for "Ain't It Cool News."

So, I did watch it without preconceptions--although I was familiar with the Japanese cartoon, having grown up with it, and that helps to aappreciate what the Wachowski's were going for in style. I did give it "an honest shake," but it was a shake of my head that it was such a bone-headed movie.

Finally, this line: "It is sad to see such a fun movie disrespected by low-life bloggers like this."
If you find it sad no wonder you were crying through the movie. Wipe away your crocodile tears, and know that there are far more sad things in the world than "a low-life blogger" criticizing your favorite movie.

And, in the future, if you're trying to convince someone of the worthiness of your point of view, you don't do so by insulting them, Einstein.

Good-bye and Good luck!