Speed Racer (2008) — Buckle up, it’s actually kind of good

“You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!”

Mike’s rating: 7 out of the 10 laws of physics broken in this movie.

Mike’s review: The Wachowskis don’t exactly have a sterling reputation amidst moviegoers these days. After severely dropping the ball on the Matrix sequels, there are film geeks more than willing to string them up in a public square and beat them senseless, or at the very least lump them in with hacks like Uwe Boll.

The problem with this line of thought is that ultimately, despite their missteps, the Wachowskis remain extremely talented visual artists. After the debacle that was Reloaded and Revolutions it’s very easy to forget that they created the original Matrix, and that that movie pretty much revolutionized the film industry, and was more imitated, ripped-off and satirized than any film in recent history. Credit where credit’s due, people. If there’s one thing the Wachowskis have proven they can do really well, it’s translate anime into live action, and damned if they haven’t taken it up a notch from previous outings for this little flick.

Perhaps the most accurately named kid ever, Speed Racer is a race car driver in the WRL (World Racing League, and, yes, it’s fictional). When Speed wins a high profile race, setting a new record in the process, he gains the attention of race car team owner/corporate slimeball Royalton, who offers him a sponsorship and a cushy place on his team.

The only problem is that Speed’s family, particularly his dad Pops, is opposed to big corporate sponsors, as harassment by a sponsor led to the death of Speed’s brother Rex. When Speed refuses, the formerly magnanimous Royalton shows his true colors, explaining to Speed that all races are fixed, and he’s the guy running the show. He then targets Speed’s family, not only sabotaging Speed on the track, but also engineers a lawsuit against his father’s auto shop. So Speed makes up his mind to go after Royalton, and break his hold on the WRL with the help of Inspector Detector and the mysterious Racer X.

You have no idea how much fun it was to type that last sentence.

The film does exactly what it says on the tin. There’s no deeper meaning or thinly veiled message, just sheer entertainment. This movie is, unashamedly, a popcorn flick. The characters exist in a pastel, brightly-lit and very much anime-styled universe. Everything is extremely over the top. So much so that some viewers might be turned off by the sheer audacity of it all, and less intelligent people aren’t gonna understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of the sheer kitsch on display and walk out of the theatre going “tha wuz stoopid.”

I don’t care about these people. I’d love to be all highbrow and above it all and look down on this flick, which is, let’s face it, kind of silly, but I have to review a movie based on two things: my reactions while watching, and how I felt coming out of the theater. During the movie I was blown away by the force of it all, and laughing with excitement during a lot of the crucial race scenes, and laughing hysterically whenever Spritle (Speed’s little brother) and chimpanzee Chim Chim were on screen. I was truly impressed by how good the effects came off, the detail given to the whole unreality of it. Most times I can’t get too excited when everything is CGI, this actually had me going “Holy crap, that was cool!” under my breath. As I walked out of the theatre, I felt adrenalized and all I wanted to do was drive fast.

Already the film critics, as they are wont to do whenever somebody makes a flick that just might be fun to watch and nothing more, are ripping this movie apart. Some are saying it’s too gaudy and flashy. Others are trashing the cartoonish silliness of it all. To this I say: It’s a movie! Just have fun for a change. Laugh at the sheer silliness and marvel and the technological achievement here. Enjoy the bright colors and ridiculously cool effects! If you don’t like that kind of thing, then go watch some sepia-toned Oscar winner… that is of course, if you can stay awake.

Didja notice?

  • Royalton has a formidable love of pancakes
  • Christina Ricci’s eyes are big enough to pass for actual anime eyes
  • At the end of the cross country race, Speed jumps from the car and brings his hand up in a kind of sweeping gesture. This is a shot for shot recreation of the opening of the original cartoon.
  • Sparky’s got milk
  • If Racer X got plastic surgery and looks nothing like his former self, why does he still have to wear a mask?
  • Racer X jumping his car up and punching the other guy as he flew over was frickin’ sweet.
  • Pop’s Greco Roman Wrestling Championship ring
  • Poo fling!

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