Speed Racer Review - A Vibrantly Entertaining Live-Action Cartoon
by Alex Billington
May 7, 2008
The Wachowskis have amazed again and shown us a world we'll only ever see in their imagination. Speed Racer is yet another visual revolution, but this time it's for kids, too. It's everything you'd imagine a live-action adaptation of the classic cartoon series would be, stylized and glorified in ways only the Wachowskis could dream up. After seeing it twice I confidently say that Speed Racer is the most entertaining and mind-blowing kids movie this year. At just over two hours, Speed Racer is longer than most kids' movies, yet it's still an exciting thrill ride from start to finish.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the second son in a family born of racing. His father Pops Racer (John Goodman) and older brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter) have independently built their own race cars all their life. Speed has grown up with racing in his blood and now it's his time to take to the track. After showing the world he is destined to become the next big thing in racing, the industry sponsors target him as their next big acquisition. Speed knows better than to give up his family for a sponsorship deal and remains independent, discovering not only how the racing industry truly works but also the price of messing with the wrong people.
This is unquestionably a kid's film and is designed strictly as a live interpretation of the cartoon. It's fair to call the visuals "The Matrix with cars," but the PG-rated script follows the feeling of the cartoon closer than I've ever seen any adaptation do before. It's got all your standard kid's entertainment with goofy lines, inexplicable happenings, and joke moments, most of which usually involve Speed's younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his monkey friend Chim Chim.
What I've really come to love about Speed Racer is how it takes us both on thrilling rides and shows us a vibrant world of high-speed racing combined with a simple yet captivating story. The Wachowskis aren't going to win awards for any of their writing, but it's done well enough to at least drive the story in the right direction. And if you can retain the spirit of your inner 12-year-old and suspend your own disbelief, you'll enjoy Speed Racer as much as I did. There really is no better way to describe the movie than an exact live-action conversion of the Speed Racer cartoon. As long as you keep that in your mind going in, you'll walk out thoroughly entertained. After seeing it twice, I think I've come enjoy this as much as any of my favorite childhood cinematic experiences.
In comparison, Speed Racer isn't as finely crafted as either Iron Man or The Matrix, but it has a distinctive style and that's where the Wachowski's always shine. Emile Hirsch does a formidable job as Speed, considering almost everything in the film was CGI. Matthew Fox was underutilized as Racer X, which is a shame since he had the greatest depth out of anyone in the cast. Christina Ricci as Speed's girlfriend Trixie, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer, and Paulie Litt as Spritle were all mildly serviceable as well. The cast isn't what this is going to remembered for and that's not a real problem.
Speed Racer is an action film aimed squarely at the 12-year-old in all of us. Everyone who can step out of their own age and enjoy what the Wachowskis have created will be overjoyed by this movie. It has captured the spirit of pure cartoon entertainment and ensconced it in a glorious, stylish, candy-coated world as only the Wachowski Brothers can. Speed Racer is a movie I've come to love after two viewings and is easily a movie I won't forget. The Wachowskis haven't created the next Matrix, they've created the perfect adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon. And I can't stop waking up in the mornings to watch it.
Reader Feedback - 32 Comments
Sweet. I'm definitely going at least four times.
Fisherman on May 7, 2008
Thanks so much for this review. I'm even more stoked than before.
Ian Kazimer on May 7, 2008
I can't wait for this! I'm psyched for IMAX!
Andrew on May 7, 2008
Well received or not, I'm glad the Wachowski brothers went out there for this. I remember the crazy cartoon motion lines on the tracks as Speed was racing when I saw the cartoons as a kid, it just begs for a fantastic ride of a movie. I cant wait. Now Emile's boufy hairdo is another matter...
cyn on May 7, 2008
General consensus is pretty negative.
John on May 7, 2008
I really disagree. I thought the worst problem was the dialogue. I knew what they were going for but it was just awful and so was Hirsch. The visuals were fun for a few minutes, but it was like somebody shoved a Starburst into my cornea. See WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS... this weekend if you want something new. It isn't amazing and only has a handful of genuine surprises but it definitley delievers on the comedy and Ashton and Cameron do work well off of each other.
Ryan on May 7, 2008
This site has been pimping this movie for ages so no wonder it got good reviews.
Jojo on May 7, 2008
how much did they pay you to say that? this movie is garbage.
FARMHOUSE. on May 7, 2008
I had no idea it was supposed to be a "kid's" movie. Guess the trailer now it makes more sense. Perhaps, I'm simply getting too old, but I'm just all "meh" on the anticipation scale for this flick. Still, your positive review makes me reconsider it as a rainy day matinee choice.
Teresa on May 7, 2008
I think I might go see that movie stoned. Prolly blow my mind. And it looks pretty sweet. Also, that guy cant honestly suggest we go see what happens in vegas. Sweet lord no. Those "actors" are garbage.
matt on May 7, 2008
Enjoy it for what it's supposed to be. OK, sounds great. I'll try and get into an IMAX theatre for it.
Minic on May 8, 2008
Matt, I won't be seeing either of these movies, but "Vegas" seems to be getting reviewed a lot better than this.
John on May 8, 2008
I could have done without - or at the very least, with less - of the annoying little brother. As with both of the Matrix sequels I feel a quarter of the running time could have been shaved off resulting in a better movie. Thought the visuals were great but bogged down with inane banter. I'd give it a 5 outta 10.
Matt on May 8, 2008
I think he only saw it TWO TIMES! That's what I took away from it. That and you have to be 12. Repetition is a never a good thing, unless your putting emphasis on something that is important to remember. Like there's some surprising twist at the end. Even though I was a fan of the cartoon, I'm going to steer clear of this one. I wouldn't be able to sit through a movie parents just dropped their kids off at as a cheap two-hour babysitter. Maybe I'll watch it on DVD.
Denver on May 8, 2008
The only way they'll make their money back on this is by opening a Speed Racer Roller coaster. Which I am ALL FOR, btw.
Djo Fortunado on May 8, 2008
it was a very good movie and it's going to appeal to a broad audience but the whole time i was watching it i was asking myself, "what are parents going to think of this?" the movie had about 10 swear words, about three scenes of gunfighting, and a lightly sexual discussion between speed and trixie which made most of us a little weirded out. i know they wanted to make a family-aimed movie that was pg but it still felt borderline pg-13. also, the imax makes all the colors stand out vividly, which captured the directors' style they were going for so i'd say imax is worth the bit extra
funnytunney on May 8, 2008
Cool beans! 😀
Manfred Powell on May 8, 2008
This film officially made my Do Not Give A Damn About List (joining Sex and the City as the biggest movies on the list) after I saw the full length trailer. I haven't seen, heard, or read anything since then to make me change my mind. I still watch Saturday morning cartoons (current lineup: Spectacular Spider-Man, World of Quest, Johnny Test) so I'm not above some clean, silly entertainment. This just doesn't look... interesting. The Wachowskis have amped up the colors and visual effects to LSD trip-levels, but the story sounds so.. meh, and the dialogue is... more meh. And for chrissakes, they have an effing monkey in it. Not even Christina Ricci's presence can make up for that. Well, not a fully-clothed Christina Ricci at least.
kevjohn on May 8, 2008
I have to agree with "kevjohn" 100%, this does nothing for me. A funny side note is how after "Ironman" came out, "Speed Racer" became labeled as a "Fun Family Film".
Scorpio on May 8, 2008
I loved the CGI and action along with the racing. The acting sucked. It's a kids movie that anyone who watched it as a kid will enjoy. I only would recommend to people who have seen the series. The Wachowskis created a movie built to a certain audience and I don't think it's gonna do all that well. I will wait for it to get to DVD before I watch it again. Once was enough.
Tyler on May 9, 2008
Alex, either you're being paid by Warners for this, or are in serious need of psychiatric evaluation. The preview audience with whom I saw this DESPISED this movie, and told the post-film interviewers that in no uncertain terms. The kids in the audience were BORED throughout. One mother of two young boys told me afterwards that her kids wanted to leave during it. It's too long. The action scenes are too frenetic to be coherent. The colors and overall design are too garish. The script is stillborn. The plot is too complex for the target audience. This was a major miscalculation. EPIC.
Ray on May 9, 2008
My review is right here: http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com/reviews/ray-hates-speed-racer.php I don't allow my mind to be made up for me by other audience members; I was simply using the experience to illustrate your completely erroneous assertion that everyone will love this movie, and that it's a film for the child in all of us. The kids at my screening hated the movie. I understand the wonders of creative filmmaking. SPEED RACER is certainly a technical marvel. However, great films often require more than technical virtuoso, and this movie does not measure up at all. Hell, even fun films tend to breathe once in a while, but this thing is too long and too overbearing. It's like watching a camp classic like MOMMIE DEAREST in which Joan Crawford beats Christina with a wire hanger for the entire two hour running time; it's just too much. I am definitely not jumping on a bandwagon. I had not read a single review prior to posting mine on Monday. If anything, you are the one who jumps on the bandwagon. Just about any movie that shows a flashy special effect can expect an overwhelmingly positive review from you. You're like a low-rent Harry Knowles, eager to suck off the next Hollywood blockbuster. A movie of this pedigree and expense should produce more than a special effects highlight reel. Sorry if you can't understand that.
Ray on May 9, 2008
With all due respect, Ray, I think you're being a bit rude. You're actually hurling personal insults at Alex, and that's just not on. My humble suggestion is that you stop. Anyway, here's my review: I went to an afternoon matinée showing to fit around my schedule, and while there were only a few people there, we were all laughing along and people were cheering and whooping. And I left the cinema with a grin the size of a crescent moon plastered on my face. The Brothers seem to have delivered a real crowd-pleasing extravaganza of a film. The racing scenes were bleeding spectacular. I mean "spectacular" in a way that has never even been imagined. Honestly, it deserves an Oscar nod just for art design. What's so ingenious about the opening sequence is that it not only sets up all the characters with entertaining and emotional efficiency, but it also establishes how the cars work in this fantasy world. So despite the races being faster than anything you're ever likely to see, the main action beats are always delivered with a clarity and a style that will keep you thrilled beyond belief. Each race is perfectly crafted with the stakes and the challenges rising further and further with each successive scene...until we reach a final showdown that leaves you utterly breathless. Literally. And the "visual vocabulary" of the film is truly innovative. It's like the camera is no object. As an audience member, you've never felt freer. Unlike the stylistic approach of the recent Star Wars prequels, which generally used locked off cameras and relatively tame tracking shots, Speed Racer ducks into, under and around the action in a way that opens up the medium like no other film before it. Compared to other film in its greenscreen sub-genre, this leaves movies like Sin City and 300 looking rather timid by comparison. But at the heart of it, this is really a film about fathers and their sons. A coming of age story about hope, expectation, and the pain of loss. I found myself with a lump in my throat while watching the movie. Wait, let me rephrase. I found myself with a lump in my throat within ten minutes of the film starting. Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and Scott Porter as the young Rex Racer all provide intimate and genuinely moving performances. Make no mistake about it, this film is the definition of joviality on celluloid. But the story is basically driven by the shadow of a lost family member from the very first scene in the film, and that's what really makes the film worth watching. As well as being immersed in a fantasy world of drop dead gorgeous visuals, of course. In the same way that Sin City was an exaggerated, impressionistic noir, and just as 300 was an exaggerated, impressionistic war movie, Speed Racer plays as an exaggerated, impressionistic 1960s kid's show. Which is exactly what it is. It's campy. It's fun, And it's full of humour and heart. Of course, brooding characters and over-the-top gore is easier to sell than camp, colourful fun, but allowing oneself to become absorbed in the film's style makes for a rewarding experience. I've heard complaints about the film's exposition, but the only scene where I could perhaps understand that criticism was about half way through when Taejo's family troubles were being told. But even that zipped by very quickly and the audience still understands exactly what was at stake in the upcoming race. So if it is a flaw, it's a minor one at best. The characters are warm and lovable, the villains are wonderfully hissable, the actors' performances are all suitably camp, and the morality tale at the center of it - the battle of family versus corporatism - gives the story a real spirit. And makes the races all that more enthralling to watch. It's infectiously charming, and even at 129 minutes the film glides like a T-180 on ice. I was convinced I was only in there for about thirty minutes, and when it finished I was left gagging for more. So what's the verdict? Well, it's a tricky decision between 4 and 5 stars. While the story wasn't exactly the peak of literary greatness, it was very well told. Despite its two hour plus running time, the narrative was sharp, the emotionality was touching, and the plot turns were genuinely exciting. If the film was not such a special effects extravaganza, it would probably have been given a 4 star rating. But the film does have incredible special effects. And it does offer an absolutely sublime spectacle. Not only that, but the Wachowskis seem to have yet again set another industry standard - one that will likely be copied and mimicked for years to come. Until the Brothers reinvent the wheel for a fourth time, that is. And as such, the rating for this film is for something that could easily end up becoming highly influential classic. Bring on Speed Racer 2!
Manfred Powell on May 9, 2008
By the way, when I say the film is "5 stars", I mean it's "5 stars out of 5" not 10 😀
Manfred Powell on May 9, 2008
I heard that What Happens in Vegas was filmed OUT OF FOCUS. I read that in the New York Times review of it, which gave Speed Racer a good review. I'm going to see Speed Racer tonight because I like to have good, clean fun!
Kail on May 9, 2008
Truly one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Sure the effects were great, but effects for the sake of effects don't make a great movie. By the time I got to 90 minutes my head hurt, the story had fallen apart and the horrendous dialog had just made me want to leave. When I left 5 minutes later I was joining the 50% of the audience that had walked out earlier. This movie gets 1 star our of 100 from me.
Louis on May 9, 2008
Took my family of five to see it tonight ( after seeing a midnight airing of it myself to check it out, first). This event cost us over $62 for the IMAX tickets + more if you count concessions. Guess what: We Loved it. It has heart - style - and tons of awesome moments for us veteran S.R. fans. The Bros. really did their homework on this one. My wife, two boys and even my sarcastic teenaged daughter all raved about it. =) We're buying the DVD when it comes out. Thank you, Wachowski's!
Tivius on May 10, 2008
I appreciate what you do alex. I too, like to watch movies and enjoy them for what they're worth: entertainment. Some people look to far into a flick; analyzing, criticizing, nit-picking to a tee... scrutinzing a movie as if it has ruined their day (if you don't like it, don't watch you - you can't say you didn't know what you were getting yourselves when you viewed the trailers). People put a lot of effort into producing movies and if i'll get anything out of this Speed Racer movie... it's essentially a visual masterpiece. So much hate running in the veins of these so-called movie-goers. SMH.
BinYe East on May 11, 2008
If you were a fan of the original cartoon, you will LOVE this movie! ...If you didn't like (or don't know) the original, you should probably go see Iron Man again.
K. on May 12, 2008
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