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"Speed Racer" Has Something for Everyone

by on May 21, 2008

When the trailer for Speed Racer first came out, anticipation was strong, and whether you reacted to the kaleidoscopic visuals with “Wow!” or “Oh, my eyes!”, chances are you’ll feel the same way about the film. Part live-action cartoon, part action movie, and part planetarium light show, Speed Racer has something for everyone.

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has a yen for racing cars. (With a name like that, he’s going into accounting?) His fascination goes back to his childhood, when he idolized his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), who perished during a rough race. Speed is approached one day by a man named Royalton (Roger Allam), who runs a corporate racing company. Overwhelmed by the various aspects of the business, Speed declines his offer. Royalton doesn’t take the rejection well, though, and seeks to ensure that Speed’s track success is cut short. The Racer family stands by their son, and receives assistance from the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).

Unlike other recent cartoon adaptations that had, shall we say, less than meets the eye, Speed Racer is a fantastic experience. The film was shot utilizing the same live-actors-on-green-screen-with-scenery-to-be-added-later process as Sin City. But in comparison to Sin City‘s black-and-white palette, Speed bursts with every color of the rainbow and a few that haven’t yet been named (as in the helicopter flight to Royalton Industries). Even more, the scene transitions layer the actors over the scenery, an aspect that will either enthrall you or annoy you, as it is used throughout the film.

It makes for an interesting irony that such a colorful film is drawn in black-and-white strokes: the good guys and bad guys are easy to spot, and its “family good, impersonal corporation bad” message, though a bit obvious, goes down smoothly. In terms of subject matter, it is quite different from the last few projects the Wachowski brothers have done—although they apparently couldn’t quite resist slipping in some Matrix-style martial arts fighting. One of the fights is sure to bring a smile to your face given the participants.

The acting doesn”t exactly challenge the talented cast, but they inhabit their roles well. Emile Hirsch does quite well as Speed, while Christina Ricci sparkles as Trixie. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman are terrific as Mom and Pops, and Matthew Fox makes for an appropriately inscrutable Racer X. A large part of the film is stolen, however, by Paulie Litt as Speed’s mischievous, candy-craving brother, Spritle, and his partner-in-crime, Chim-Chim (chimpanzees Willy and Kenzie).

As ever, Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) brings his A-game to an exciting music score.

Those scene transitions, like I said, can be pretty distracting, and an on-track conversation between Speed and Trixie, with the camera zooming between them, looks ridiculous. Also, even if you’ve never heard of “Speed Racer,” the revelation about Racer X will be fairly obvious.

Still, I had a fine time getting lost in this movie. The visuals will lose something in the transition to the small screen, so see it in a theater. It is worth your while.

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