May 7, 2008

Review: “Speed Racer”

Genre: Action/Science/Fiction
Release: 8 May 2008
Running Time: 2 Hours 17 Minutes
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox
Director: Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

Based on the classic TV series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida, the live-action "Speed Racer" follows the adventures of race car driver Speed on and off the track in his thundering Mach 5. The film also features other characters that fans of the show will remember, including Speed's family and his mysterious arch-rival, Racer X. The movie combines revolutionary visual effects and cutting-edge storytelling that have become the benchmarks of the Wachowski Brothers' films.

"Speed Racer" stays true to the ideals set by its predecessor, the 60's Japanese TV animation of the same name. Fans may revel in the adaptation, gorgeously and brightly coloured but retaining every aspect of the cartoon that fans have come to love. The film carries forward the cartoon's legacy, and successfully resurrects the Racer family in lifelike fashion. Without a single disconnection to what "Speed Racer" fans have come to love from the series, the film will definitely be a fanboy favourite, and will most likely pull in the family crowds to the cinema.

Early on, it drives the viewer down memory lane, rekindling our childhood memories with the abundance of the Racer family as they make a beloved return - Pops, Mom, Trixie, Spritle, their pet monkey Chim Chim, Speed's brother Rex, and of course, Speed himself.

We are reminded yet again of the Racer family's cohesion, and later the tragedy that befell Rex, which further catapulted Speed into the fast and furious life of racing. The strong family orientation easily categorizes "Speed Racer" as a family flick, and infused with a childish sort of enthusiasm. The ultra-psychadelic world compares itself to the likes of "Spy Kids" or even "The Cat In The Hat", but the Wachowski brothers aren't too bothered. They've openly expressed making a family movie out of "Speed Racer" and it's worth every penny.

Viewers are nonetheless thrown into a shiny and colourful extravaganza. The Wachowskis spared nothing when it comes to CGI and viewers are mercilessly soaked in special effects from start to finish.

Speed's remarkable knack for racing makes him one of the most sought after young talents in the industry, and very soon finds himself under the proposition of a gigantic corporation whose only motive is to exploit. He adamantly refuses, but at a bigger price to pay - the corporate big kahuna retaliates by pitting almost every other racer against him to make him regret.

Here, his family's dedication is put into play, leaning towards morals and principles about sticking together as a family. Their endurance is tested against the over-formulated plot of corporate exploitations and competition, which overall sours in comparison if it weren't for the visual eye candy.

Races are run over a myriad of deliriously designed courses and tracks, taking you on a whirlwind ride of 'super roller coaster' proportions. Speeds are duly outrageous, but are understandably part of the game. Nonetheless, every track and race is exciting, defying the laws of gravity and physics as well as coming across as a little toy-like, but cameras are constantly on the move, which retains its appeal. Vehicles are also designed to be both appealing to the enthusiast and as a concealed block of weaponry.

However, the film is shallow on script and dialogue and the characters are, sadly, in the same boat. More emphasis was put on keeping the characters as true to the cartoon's roots as possible, but they are an easily lovable lot that don't require intellect to make them relatable.

With a little dash of videogame-quality aesthetics and 60's TV commercial background music, the film has a risk of being dumped into the 'kiddie' bin, but sentimentalists will enjoy the reverie. Bits of humour are thrown in courtesy of Spritle and Chim Chim mainly, but it isn't enough to be labelled as 'laugh out loud' comical throughout.

The directors Andy and Larry Wachowski have pushed the edge of visual technology with this film. Along with the likes of Hirsch, Fox, Goodman, Sarandon and Ricci, it contains a sort of positivity that's driven and wildly reckless. Everyone wants to feel like a kid again sometimes... and this would be a good time.


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