The Great Movie Catch-Up of 2008: Speed Racer

At the end of every year I try and max out my pop cultural knowledge by renting (yes, walking into a video store and clutching the plastic disc) all the movies I missed in 2008. Over the year I find myself skipping movies that are slightly too shitty to justify $10 tickets by saying I’ll see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I don’t enjoy the movies quite as much this way. They’re played in succession in a binge. Unless the movie’s a real standout it sort of just gets absorbed into my trivia and quote deployment borg.

So: Speed Racer.

It’s not very good. As my friend Tim Brayton pointed out/tried to warn humanity, “fully three-quarters of a film about stylised racing is not about racing whatsoever, but about the treacly drama surrounding a sweet and loving nuclear family.” Indeed, a shocking proportion of the film’s 140-something minutes is spent in the Racer home, or with the Racer family on the road, as they sadly reminisce about their dead son Rex or muse about the corruption in their sport or… it’s all quite cartoonishly written so I didn’t pay attention.

We pay to see this movie because of the confounding, brighter-than-God green screen effects and action sequences. It didn’t remind me of anything the Wachowskis had done, as much as it made me wonder if someone had located Kenneth Anger circa 1973 and given him $120 million. The Wachowskis make no choices that I could detect. Every color, every explosion, every melting effect, and most importantly every scrolling shot, is deployed. The filmmakers tip their hand early on when Spritle (the “cute” kid who will make you crave hemlock) is offered candy from a massive display case. “Hey!” you say. “The rest of the movie is the color of all that candy!”

Behind all of my sarcasm you’ll notice I didn’t say “this sucked.” It didn’t! Speed Racer was always a ridiculous and (IMHO) boring cartoon, and if the film had been some 2 Fast 2 Furious clone (which seemed possible when it was optioned) it would have been a total failure, as opposed to an interesting acid trip.

– Why do the Wachowskis do the “we’re gonna kiss but something keeps interrupting us” thing with Speed and Trixie? They’re dating already. It’s odd.

– I’m enjoying the rise of Roger Allam as a character actor who personifies villainy, as he looks exactly like Christopher Hitchens.

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