(Manufacturer # 1000163465 )
The Matrix masterminds Andy and Larry Wachowski usher anime icon Tatsuo Yoshida's classic 1960s-era hit into the new millennium with this family-friendly story of a young racecar driver who takes on the mysterious Racer X in a custom-made, gadget-loaded speed machine named the Mach 5. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the kind of driver that every wheelman wishes he could be: a born winner whose unbeatable combination of aggression, instinct, and fearlessness always finds him crossing the checkered flag with a comfortable lead. In Speed Racer's mind, the only driver who could present him with any real challenge is his late brother -- the legendary Rex Racer. Rex died in a heated cross-country rally known as The Crucible many years ago, and now his younger sibling is driven to fulfill the legacy that Rex left behind. To this day, Speed Racer is fiercely loyal to family. It was Speed Racer's father, Pops Racer (John Goodman), who designed the unbeatable Mach 5, and even a lucrative offer from racing giants Royalton Industries isn't enough to get the young ace to break his family ties.
Upon turning down Royalton's (Roger Allam) astronomical offer, Speed Racer makes the shocking discovery that the outcomes of the biggest races are being predetermined by a handful of powerful moguls who pad their profits by manipulating the drivers. Realizing that his career would be ruined if word of the fix gets out, Royalton vows that the Mach 5 will never make it to another finish line. Now, the only way for Speed Racer to save the family business and beat Royalton at his own game will be to win the very same race that claimed his brother's life so many years ago. In order to accomplish that formidable feat, however, Speed Racer will not only have to rely on his family and the aid of his longtime girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), but form a tenuous alliance with his longtime rival -- the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) -- as well. ~ Jason Buchanan, RoviMovie TypeMovie Level Themes
Heroic Mission, Death in the Family, Car Racing, Contests, Pageants and Competitions, HotshotsMovie Level Tones
Rousing, Stylized, FlashyAwardsAMG Rating
The Wachowski Brothers' CG-fueled futuristic adventure Speed Racer delivers on every promise. An adaptation of the '60s Japanese cartoon that was among the first anime to hit the States, the movie follows through on every element that endeared the furiously high-strung show to its audience, and offers giant, hypnotically strobing neon signs screaming "FUN! FUN! FUN!" to all viewers who go to the movies looking for a good time.
You don't really need to have seen the original series to get what they were going for here -- catching a parody of it on Family Guy or The Simpsons imparts the basic idea. Speed Racer is about shows of over-the-top intensity: screams and gasps, rapid-fire dialogue, and more highest-of-the-high-stakes good vs. evil intrigue than the world of car racing could conceivably house outside this flashy fantasy universe. Even without the film's other successes, the Wachowskis' rendering of that Day-Glo universe is reason enough for fans of enjoy-the-ride cinema to check it out. It's set in the original series' era of around 1967 -- if 1967 were the future. And the awesomely absurd melted-candy whirlwind that makes up every scene's art direction is just the beginning (think Brady Bunch sets on acid); the movie's more fantastical locales make the phrase "eye candy" sound like weak sauce. Speed's trip to a plush-and-plastic corporate R&D facility is like a zillion-dollar science-lab version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, and that doesn't even touch on the races -- of which there are a few. They're set on tracks like space-age, black-lit roller coasters and employ entertaining and remarkably consistent reinventions of physics.
It's that epic, candy-coated-PCP intensity that really packages the whole film up as a faithful adaptation, though. The Wachowskis dreamed up an insane plot that could support the fantastically ridiculous fierceness that's so inherent to the franchise's style, balancing the dramatics stroke for stroke with funny, well-paced, and very family-friendly humor. This was, after all, a kids' show -- and Speed Racer is a PG movie. Fans who fondly remember Speed's race-track rivals flying off the road into violent, unforgiving explosions may be disappointed here to see most casualties fleeing their flaming wreckage in escape pods. It's a necessary change to make the film consumable for today's kids (or, maybe more accurately, today's parents), but younger viewers still might drop out before the end -- two hours and 15 minutes is a long time for a sugar high. There's a fair amount of wordy exposition that can seem like a bit much, but the script is keen on spelling out the things that make all the emotional bombast so necessary. They're simple and loudly broadcasted ideas (Family is important! Racing is awesome!), but Speed Racer wouldn't be Speed Racer if there weren't hurricanes of emotion and looks of desperate determination flying around -- both of which, by the way, star Emile Hirsch pulls off tremendously, especially with nothing but a green screen for inspiration.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Hirsch, with his Tiger Beat doe eyes and heart-shaped face, looks like an anime character. Christina Ricci, who plays his helicopter-flying girlfriend, Trixie, has been described this way for years, and the rest of the cast, who otherwise look like normal humans, clearly took extremely nuanced direction to capture that old-school anime style. If you look carefully, you might notice scenes of dialogue where actors hold a fixed, intense expression in their eyes as they articulate wildly with their mouth -- recalling the feel of hand-drawn animation, in which artists would animate only a character's mouth to save money. Likewise, look for the way Paulie Litt strikes lighting-fast, freeze-frame poses as little brother Spritle, or listen for the way Matthew Fox evokes the baritone gravitas of dubbed kung fu villains as the mysterious Racer X. The film is also littered with deliberate misuses of parallax, evoking the feeling of 2-D animation with very 3-D elements. It's impressive that, with everything else about the movie that goes bounding calculatedly over the top, the Wachowski's kept this element reeled in. But then, they had to pick something. ~ Cammila Albertson, Rovi
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