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DVD Review: Speed Racer (2008)

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Written by El Puerquito Magnifico

With the live-action adaptation of the classic anime Speed Racer, the Wachowskis hoped to reach a larger audience by presenting a family-friendly film. When the film was released this summer, it didn’t exactly have the box-office impact that the studios were hoping for and didn’t set the critical world on fire either. The Matrix it wasn’t. Despite the poor performance and generally negative reviews, I still wanted to see the film. It just looked really cool. Thanks to the magic of DVD, I was able to watch it earlier today, and yes, it does look really cool.

Unfortunately, Speed Racer is a movie that doesn’t seem to know who it’s appealing to, and clocking in at two hours and 15 minutes, it misses the mark for both of its major demographics. One cannot expect a young child to sit still for that long, nor can one expect any reasonably affordable strain of marijuana to produce a high that will last throughout the duration of the movie. The plot is just a bit too complicated for a kid to really get into, but the characters are a bit too simple to really appeal to anyone looking for a compelling film. It’s not that Speed Racer is a bad movie; it’s just not that good.

The story centers around the improbably named Speed Racer and his family of racing addicts. Speed is renowned for his artistic ability on the track and is wooed by an evil corporation. Deciding his integrity and love for the sport is more important than a big paycheck, Speed ends up finding out that all is not as it seems in the world of racing. A lot of the major races are fixed in order to manipulate the stock market and further the success of corporate fat cats. Working together with the mysterious Racer X, Speed enters the Casa Cristo, a race known for foul play and danger. There’s a lot more to the story, including a love interest and a little kid and a chimp who stow away in the back of the car, but I won’t bother getting into all that right now.

For a film with the word “speed” in the title, it moves at an alarmingly slow pace. Just when it seems that the plot is really about to get rolling, it slows back down as new characters and new elements are added. It seems very disjointed at times, almost as though the chimp that was hiding in the trunk of the car was also in the editing room. As I said before, it’s also just too long. I’m not a filmmaker and I shouldn’t be telling anyone how to make a movie, but my god: it’s nearly two and a half hours long! This movie should’ve been an hour and a half tops. The frustrating thing is that it’s not hard to see where it could be improved. Take out a few minutes here, a few minutes there and the whole thing would flow a lot better. It’s almost a good movie, but not quite.

It is, however, absolutely brilliant to look at. The whole thing really does look like a cartoon brought to life. The movie somehow manages to look like a futuristic version of the 1960s got busy with a Mario Kart video game and had a hyperactive baby named Speed Racer. The special effects are awesome and it should be noted that despite the level of craziness going on during the race scenes, it’s always very clear what is happening at all times. I’ve seen too many action flicks where the special effects overwhelm everything on screen and you have no idea what’s going on because your brain just can’t keep up. Not so here. The race scenes are very easy to follow and incredibly fun to watch. Despite this movie’s many flaws, I can’t really give it too bad of a review because it’s just so freakin’ cool looking!

In the end, I guess I’d say that Speed Racer is a movie that should probably be rented rather than purchased. Wait for it to hit HBO or Showtime or whatever movie channel you might subscribe to. It’s totally worth watching, but you might not want to watch it again. Children and owners of gravity bongs might disagree with me.

The DVD features a tour of the movie set with Paulie Litt, the kid who plays Speed’s younger brother Spritle. I watched about five minutes of this before turning it off in disgust. There’s also a little feature called “Speed Racer: Supercharged,” which is sort of a commercial for the World Racing League, with little biographies and statistics of a bunch of fictional drivers, cars and tracks. Kinda fun, but kinda boring too.

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  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/derek-fleek Derek Fleek

    I see where you’re coming from. It is too long. But I happen to own a gravity bong, so it worked out pretty well for me. ;)

  • Brad Laidman

    A fair review. The movie doesn’t run as smoothly as it should, but there is a lot of great stuff and style in there as well as a lot of love for the original.

    The movie deserved better than the trashings that it got. Better an ambitious falure than a cynical success is how I feel.