Speed Racer

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Speed Racer
Review (-/10)
(By Garth Franklin)

If an LSD trip could manifest itself in physical form and repeatedly rape your sensory sockets like only a repeat offender can, you'll get an idea of the visual and auditory assault that is in store for you with the Wachowski siblings new effort "Speed Racer".

Without that wild neon cornucopia exploding all over the screen though, there's actually not much else to this overly long, fitfully paced and often somber story of the way one brother's death haunts a family of staunch anti-capitalists with questionable taste in fashion and interior design. In spite of a roster of solid talent like Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and John Goodman - all become lost amidst an orgy of pixels writhing around like the special effects equivalent of a bukkake film.

Visually the Wachowski's have already stated their intent to make a "live action cartoon" and in some ways they've succeeded - every detail in every frame is colorful, ambitious and in sharp focus. This delivers a bright world where every surface looks like it was painted by the Starburst company, the most demure physical environments are as garish as the Las Vegas strip, even the clothes make Gay Pride festivals seem funeral drab in comparison. If nothing else it'll be a great reference disc in a few months to show off your Blu-ray player's capabilities.

Yet the flat two-dimensional appearance, the hyper-kinetic editing, and the races which seem to violate all the laws of physics every few seconds, combine to rob the film of any sense of gravity in the literal and figurative sense. The graphics are so unabashedly gaudy and synthetic that they lose any sense of reality. They're also not helped by the way the race scenes are filmed, which never give any sense of geography as to where the drivers actually are in the race.

Ultimately the races end up being about how ridiculous the tracks can get rather than any real sense of competition. This leads to some interesting environments with lots of driving on steep cliffs or ice walls, buzz saws that pop out of front fenders, and every half-minute or so a car flipping in the air and/or spinning out of control - yet always landing right side up and at full speed.

All these scenes are so ostentatious that while there is a sense of cheesy fun, it's really only Ritalin-dependent kids who might find their XBOX 360 games somewhat slow that will get any genuine thrills. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn't seem to be tailored for that demographic, in fact it's hard to see what audience the movie is aiming for.

Right at the start the film jumps back and forth in time with the surprisingly morose (for a PG film anyway) story of one young boy's hero worship of his brother destroyed by greedy hounding corporations ruining the brother's reputation and then seemingly killing him. These strange attempts at serious character moments - from Speed standing up to his overbearing father to the true nature of Racer X - fall flat amidst all the artifice. They aren't helped by countless other ridiculous character bits like Speed's dad spinning a boxers-clad ninja over his head, or Speed's younger brother and his chimp going on a sugar-induced rampage through a major corporation's hallways.

Goodman and Sarandon try their best as the doting parents, but can't bring emotion to this animated exercise. Even Emile Hirsch, a young actor who's blossoming into a real major talent, falls surprisingly flat as the titular Speed. Aussie actor Kick Gurry, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, even Korean pop star Rain end up lost amidst the confusion. Funnily enough this leaves Roger Allam's enjoyably overblown corporate baddie as the only character who leaves any impression afterwards.

It's not a disaster by any means - the visuals, though kind of numbing after a while, are ambitious. There is no subtlety of any kind, but this is a film that's not trying for that - it wants to be a great big flashy kiddie movie and on that level succeeds. Unfortunately it doesn't reach out beyond that - think the "Spy Kids" movies with a lot more money and decidedly less creativity - and runs out of gas a good half hour before crossing the finishing line.

At one point the race involves Speed pressing various buttons to activate his car's defense mechanisms - removing any last vestige of doubt that this would work a lot better as a video game than as a film. As a racing game with graphics at this level, it would be one of the best of the year. As a film, whilst not one of the worst, it's certainly one of the most visible failures. You have to give credit to the Wachowski's for trying something new, even if they crash and burn.

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