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Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: Speed Racer

I've been a fan of Speed Racer since I was a kid. I used to watch it almost religiously after school. Sure, the design was simplistic, the animation minimal (sloppy, even), but that's not why you watched Speed Racer. You watched it for the races. You watched it for the crazy characters. You watched it, most of all, to see Speed use all of the Mach 5's tricks and gadgets to beat out the competition.

They have been talking about making a live-action version of this series for YEARS. Directors from Tim Burton to Hype Williams were attached, with actors like Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage as Speed and Rex Racer, AKA Racer X. But now, after years of waiting, the film finally hits the big screen, this time in the visually capable eyes of The Warchowski Brothers (or is it "siblings" now?). How'd they do?

Visually, this film is a masterpiece.

The Warchowski's have taken what they've learned from the Matrix films, and expounded on it in ways that will change the way films look and feel for the next several years. How many times have you seen the "bullet time" effect copied in movies and video games after the first Matrix film came out? When the second film came along, it seemed like no action movie could be made without a freeway chase sequence. And now, after Speed Racer, expect to see all kinds of wacky compositing shots, transition effects, and the almost seemless integration of CG and live action to create worlds that are truly unique and visually stunning.

However, like the Matrix, you still have to sit through boring scenes of dialogue and sub-standard storytelling before you can get to the good stuff. It gets so now that, as much as I like the Matrix films, I haven't watched any of them in their entirety in a long time. I just watch the action and effects parts, and that's it. And this film is no exception. At 2.25 hours, it sags in the middle, but there's enough visual goodness going on to keep you interested.

As far as the performances are concerned, everyone does just fine. John Goodman is perfect as Pops Racer, as is Christina Ricci as "Trixie". Emile Hirsch as Speed, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer, Matthew Fox as Racer X....all are good and fine (no Keanu-style acting here).

All that said, this is a KIDS FILM. It's silly, and at some points can even be annoying (thanks to Spriddle and Chim-Chim-- the kid and the monkey)...and there's even an anti-cooties message before a kissing scene (cute). When I left the theater, kids were running around, making race car sounds and pretending to drive. It definitely hits its target audience...but with an opening box office of $20 million dollars for a film that cost $120 million...that's not going to be enough.

Speed Racer will find its audience on DVD and Blu-Ray, when people will be able to fast forward to the race scenes and other visually impressive stuff. Look at this film as an FX show reel-- a demonstration of what is possible in the world of CGI....then, roll a fatty, and enjoy.

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