Review: ‘Speed Racer’ – Emile Hirsch Gets Behind the Wheel
So here we are, a mere two weeks into the Blockbuster Season and the veil of bedazzlement has already been lifted. If you are a fan of the original [[[Speed Racer]]] franchise, animated films, or even decent films in general, you will more than likely be disappointed with the film that should’ve been more accurately named [[[Speed Raver]]]. From start to finish, this film is very much like what an 8-year-old would do if he were given a crate of Pixie Stix and free run of a CGI studio, with no knowledge whatsoever about pesky details like story structure, character development or any shred of realism.
For those not in the loop, the story of Speed Racer surrounds not just the titular character (played by possibly one of the better actors of his generation, Emile Hirsch), but his über-supportive family. Pops and Mom Racer, played by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, respectively. Balancing out the cast was Speed’s girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), his obnoxious and extraneous little brother and pet chimp, and by far the MVP of the film, in Matthew Fox as Racer X.
The plot, or at least what one can gather about it after two hours in the theater, takes place in a world where car racing is king and the car-building Racer family takes aim at the allegedly fixed world of professional racing with their prodigal son, Speed. The plot is almost beaten into our heads for the first hour, with cartoonish performances and poorly rendered backdrops aiding along the way.
It would be wise to issue another warning here, too: If you or those you love are susceptible to seizures, make sure they stay away from this film at all costs. The sheer amount of bright colors and fast-moving CGI blurs are enough to give anybody a migraine, be they child, adult, or household pet.
By far, the biggest failure of the film was the complete misuse of CGI technology. In almost all forms of storytelling or even filmmaking, there is a set of guidelines to follow in order do many things, from keeping a story flowing, to making sure you don’t contradict your own work. Seeing as how the use computerized sets and elements is relatively new in mass media, a standard set of rules or regulations has not been set, but if they were, it’s easy to say that the Wachowski brothers/siblings/people-sharing -the-same-name have broken every one.
Considering the strides Hollywood has made in the integration of CGI animation into practical films, the effects in Speed Racer set that school of thought back about 10 years. One can understand that a world with flipping, racing cars that can run up glacier walls would be a little ridiculous to begin with, but it would be nice if the animators took their time in making them look remotely real, at least to the point where people in the audience actually have faces. The racing sequences reminded me very much of the animated series ReBoot, which is great for a TV show in 1994, but not for a multi-million dollar project 14 years later. If the film is meant to look like a glorified cartoon, why even bother with the live-action cast? And this brings us to another sad-but-justified problem with the film…
Outside of a handsome check, the cast of this film had to be out of their minds when they followed the direction of this movie — and it must be the direction, because these aren’t bad actors we’re dealing with here, just bad performances. The first half-hour of the film is like a test of how cartoonish and one-dimensional each character can get, and they all pass with flying colors. Looking at the more recent films these actors have been in (Into the Wild for Hirsch and Black Snake Moan for Ricci), it’s just so upsetting that we get flaccid and “community theater” performances from each of them. The only saving grace here is Matthew Fox’s cold, cool Racer X. Fox maintains the dark and ominous persona without becoming a caricature.
Overall, this film was just no good. It doesn’t’ keep with any consistent tempo, and cuts away from the action for more plot extrapolation at ill-conceived moments. The cartoonish, predictable character motivation leaves even the biggest fan of the film with an empty feeling by the end, and the action sequences were filled with so much poorly constructed resplendence that it was flat-out nauseating. It’s safe to say that when it comes to the Wachowski siblings, The Matrix did to kung-fu films what Speed Racer does to racing films. Sure, you will get a lot of sequences that will excite the kid with A.D.D. in all of us, but will only annoy and disappoint us in the end.