Speed Racer

  • 2008-05-14
  • By Tim Ochser

Christina Ricci: Watches the action in a movie that pushes all the right buttons.

Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski

It can't be easy for the Wachowski brothers. "The Matrix" was something of a "Citizen Kane"-type curse for them 's a film so brilliant that whatever else they made was always going to seem dull in comparison. "The Matrix" was startlingly original when it came out: a film that effortlessly combined genuinely philosophical musings with some of the most amazing action sequences ever filmed.
The sequels were, perhaps inevitably, disappointing. But once they were out of the way, it was intriguing to see what the Wachowski brothers would come up with next. The answer is the bizarre and rather brilliant "Street Racer."

Most critics have not been kind to their new movie. It's variously been described as too lurid, too frenetic and too infantile. And it is indeed all of those things but in the best possible way. When I came out of the movie theatre after the press screening I was absolutely reeling. Quite simply, I'd never seen anything quite like it.
Although the entire film is an action-driven, CGI extravaganza, it somehow reminded me in spirit of Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant "Punch-Drunk Love." There is a strangely surreal quality to "Speed Racer" 's it's both an exhilarating film about racing, and a cartoon-like parody of the archetypal Hollywood action film.
The story starts out with a young Speed Racer (Emile Hirsh) sitting an exam. He's so obsessed with racing, however, that he can't stop scribbling pictures of racing cars all over his papers.
Speed's older brother Rex is a highly gifted racer in a family that is all about racing. Pop (John Goodman) makes racecars while Mom (Susan Sarandon) loves racing so much that at one point she soliloquizes to Speed on how racing is just like art.

All in all, the Racer family are a wholesome, happy, TV family. Things go wrong when Rex walks out on them, apparently lured away from the family nest by huge sponsorship deals. Soon after he dies in a blaze of ignominy during a notoriously dangerous race.
Speed grows up to be every bit as gifted a driver as his brother and is soon attracting plenty of corporate interest. Speed finds himself facing the same dilemmas as his beloved elder brother once did and comes to understand why he walked away from the family: it wasn't to abandon them but to protect them.
And so the Racer family independently compete in a sport that is entirely dominated and controlled by corporate interests, with Speed at the wheel and his wholesome family rooting for him from the sidelines.
The story of "Speed Racer" is deliberately, knowingly trite. It's a perfect parody of countless Hollywood films about sport, pitching noble underdogs against evil corporate giants. But one of the remarkable achievements of "Speed Racer" is that it works both as a straightforward action movie that anyone can enjoy and as a shrewd and rather witty parody of itself.

The movie fuses cartoon, film and video game into a breathtaking spectacle. The sets are wonderfully garish, and even the characters 's from John Goodman's larger-than-life Pops to Christina Ricci's doll-eyed Trixie 's seem cut from the green screen against which almost the whole film was shot.
Perhaps one of the best compliments I can give "Speed Racer" is that I normally hate racing but was genuinely exhilarated by the many race scenes in the movie. It may not be "The Matrix" but "Speed Racer" is a lot more radical than many seem to realize. And it's also a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Opens in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania May.16


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