Thursday, May 22, 2008

Speed Racer

Like many other 30-somethings I have vaguely fond memories of Speed Racer, the cartoon series. I don't remember much...lots of running around with his mouth open, "speed lines" showing how fast he was running, and him driving the Mach 5 in races. When I heard Speed Racer (2008) was coming out I briefly considered renting or buying the cartoon series as a refresher. Then I remembered how poorly the other 80s shows have held up...when I made the mistake of going back and watching an old A-Team or Chips episode, a Smurfs episode...they do not stand up well. So I eschewed that torture and, with lots of reservations and an expectation of seeing a horrific movie, I headed off to the theatre.

If you have seen any of the previews you know it is full of vibrant pastels. The color scheme is bright and gives a sense of fun much as they did in Dick Tracy (1990).

The visuals come fast and furious but the movie is too full of flashbacks. On rare occasions...say, Iron Man (2008), there is a valid point to a flashback. Since I don't recall the cartoon, it could be that the flashbacks are a callback to the series. However, they are so prevalent that at times, even though the plot is very simple and straightforward (evil big business moguls cheating to keep racing fixed to manipulate their stocks while hero tries to bring them down) you can get a bit lost figuring out if you are watching the present or the past.

The acting is deliberately cheesy, the dialogue weak, and the story pedestrian. But the movie is pure fun. There are a lot of great visuals...the look of Speed (Emile Hirsch) racing the ghost of his brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter), and so forth...including the best joke in the entire movie.

Spritle (Paulie Litt), the youngest Racer, hangs out with Chim Chim (Willie), a chimpanzee. They are always seen together, usually hiding out, stowing away, etc. At one point the camera cuts to Spritle in his pajamas. The pajamas are covered with pictures of a monkey face. Cut to Chim Chim whose pajamas are covered with pictures of Spritle. Great visual joke.

Anyhow, the racing is great fun to watch as long as you ignore physics...regular use of "special features" on the cars, though the rapid overlays of other features can get a bit annoying.

But the most disturbing thing is the sexual heat. It is NOT, as one might expect, between Trixie (Christina Ricci) and Speed but rather between Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Speed. Her breathy "Some of the things you do take my breath away" does not come across as a proud mother but rather a love-struck paramour. Very disturbing.

And open memo to Christina Ricci; that hair cut does NOT work for you in any way, shape or form. Just sayin'...

But for all the plot holes, bizarre editing, and basic story line, the movie provides two huge positives:

1) the visuals are outstanding and great fun to watch
2) it is a very, very fun movie.

I went in expecting crap on the level of Vanilla Sky (2001), one of the 10 worst movies of all time. But it was actually pretty enjoyable, far better than expected.

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