"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. "Go Speed Racer, Go!" ("far away from us")
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.
"Go Speed Racer, Go!" ("far away from us")
(Wilhelm Alert at 00:46:43)