Archive for Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer’ provides bumpy ride

Emile Hirsch stars in "Speed Racer," a live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese cartoon series from the 1960s.

Emile Hirsch stars in "Speed Racer," a live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese cartoon series from the 1960s.

May 9, 2008

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Movie
Speed Racer ***

Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski ("The Matrix") have rewritten the laws of nature to create the color palette for this adaptation of the 1960s Japanese anime television series. It's a movie so bright you'll have to wear shades. And that's a good thing, because something needs to hide the laborious storyline.

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Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski have rewritten the laws of nature to create the color palette for their new feature film "Speed Racer." There are hues that have never been seen by the human eye.

It's a movie so bright you'll have to wear shades.

And that's a good thing, because something needs to hide the laborious storyline.

"Speed Racer" is a live-action version of the cheesy '60s Japanese anime series about a young race car driver and his odd family. The minimalist animation used to create the cartoon is what made the show a cult hit. The show was campy fun.

That's where the directors made their big mistake. They treat "Speed Racer" with the reverence of Grand Prix racing.

That's most obvious with Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch). Decked out in white leather and a helmet that makes him look like Super Dave Osborne. Speed goes from being the emotionless, voice out-of-synch character of the cartoon to James Dean in a Hot Wheels car. When Speed isn't lamenting the death of his brother, Rex Racer, he is taking a stand against the corruption of big business.

You go, Speed Racer.

That's one reason the movie has a running time of two hours and 10 minutes. Between the three whiz-bang races are long passages of people sharing their feelings and discussing deep topics such as family, friendship and finances.

Really. Go, please go, Speed Racer.

This approach might have worked if the directors had either committed to making this either a deadly serious race movie or a purely silly kid's film. Combining the opposites, a mix like oil and antifreeze, creates a picture that is painfully too long to hold the interest of children and/or adults.

The casting is solid. Hirsch has enough of a cartoon look to play Speed. Christina Ricci, who portrays the tough-but-soft Trixie, has a face made to play anime. Even Matthew Fox manages to play it straight despite being in a rather silly Racer X suit.

Someone should have told the directors if they wanted Tim Curry for the lead bad guy, they should have just hired him. Roger Allam's bad impersonation of Curry is a distraction.

All of the actors are just spinning their wheels because of the script by the Wachowski brothers. It stops and starts too often to be a smooth ride.

You might remember the Wachowskis for their "Matrix" trilogy, in which they cut their teeth learning how to use technology to drive a story. They have grown more comfortable using computer-generated images. That's why "Speed Racer" is loaded with thousands of visual effects.

And those visual effects are the driving reason to see the film.

Too bad the script gets stuck in first gear and never lets "Speed Racer" get on track.

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