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Speed Racer An Occasionally Fun Racing Extravaganza

Speed Racer
Written and directed by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski from the TV series created by Tatsuo Yashida
Warner Bros., 2008

I watched reruns of Speed Racer as a kid, but I can’t remember much about it. Like most shows back in the day, I remember mostly the theme music and the opening animation, where Speed jumps out of his car in a pose as the “camera” whirls around him. I remember crazy stuff happening in the background and Speed yelling, “Ahhhh!” when things got dangerous.

The trailer for the movie promised we would be getting a live-action version of the show, albeit still a cartoon: lots of color, impossible action, and slightly over-the-top acting. The Wachowski Brothers, creators of The Matrix, have always shown their interest in comic books and kung fu, so it was only natural that they would be drawn to something like Speed Racer.

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is an up-and-comer driving his family car, the Mach 5, built by his dad (John Goodman). With great support from his mother (Susan Sarandon) and his friend/girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci, who I always thought could play Sarandon’s daughter…guess we’ll have to settle for future daughter-in-law here), Speed looks ready to break out and get sponsership. The first and foremost interest comes from Royalton (Roger Allam), who is of course an evil corporate guy looking to do anything to raise his stock. When Speed turns him down, Royalton tells him that races are fixed by the corporate monsters and there’s nothing Speed can do about it, and if he tries to fight it his family will be ruined.

Together with a mysterious driver named Racer X (Matthew Fox), who might or might not be Speed’s believed-dead brother Rex (played in the living years by Friday Night Lights‘ Scott Porter), the two try to find a way to get Speed into the big race, which involves getting into a dangerous cross-country race where cheating seems to be encouraged. It’s also the race where Rex died. But it’s a necessary step into getting into the Grand Prix and sticking it to the coffers of Royalton.

The racing is pretty fun: nice and fast with lots of cool explosions and stuff that probably rock when you watch it in 3-D. The finale is terrific. I also loved the use of wipes during the editing, keeping things moving along briskly and adding a touch of style to the picture. However, the movie is way too long, and those colors get annoying after awhile. I’m glad there is a serviceable story here, but there are scenes that could have used some snipping to get this thing under two hours. Yep, Speed Racer isn’t all that speedy.

So overall, this is pretty good. It’s one of those movies that if you’re not quite sure about going to see, you probably shouldn’t, at least not at Adult admission.

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