The race for worst movie of 2008 starts here. Go Speed Racer GO!
I was never a huge fan of the '60s Speed Racer cartoon. To tell you the truth, I'm not truly convinced anyone was. Sure, I understand the feelings of nostalgia people have for this little piece of pop culture kitsch, but was anyone truly a Speed Racer fanatic? Hold that thought... Was anyone not consuming mass quantities of hallucinogenic drugs truly a Speed Racer fanatic?
Speed Racer is the first movie from the Wachowski siblings since 2003's highly disappointing back-to-back Matrix sequels. Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer, Christina Ricci is Trixie, Susan Sarandon is Mom, John Goodman is Pops and Matthew Fox is Racer X.
Based on the popular '60s cartoon, the update is exceptionally loyal to the psychedelic colors and nonsensical plotlines of the show. Characters speak in clichés, major story points are omitted with careless abandon and colors flash by at an alarming pace that would likely kill the seizure-prone right on the spot.
As a showcase of visual effects work, Speed Racer succeeds... Or perhaps as background fodder in an opium den. In every other sense, it fails. At two hours and 15 minutes, it's far too long, especially for something aimed at kids. The pacing is extremely uneven, with climax after climax indicating a merciful ending that feels like it's never going to come. Return of the King might have had 15 endings, but at least it was a quality epic. What's your excuse Speed Racer?
As I mentioned, the visuals are cool, but they're also overdone. The bright, retina-burning world gets tiresome within the first 15 minutes. By the end, you almost forget that there were real people in the movie at all. Perhaps this is my cynicism, but for me this kind of overuse of CG effects work removes the audience from any kind of human connection with the characters involved. I was just picturing the cast sitting in front of green screens holding steering wheels all day.
Hirsch, Ricci, Sarandon, Goodman and even the chimp give spirited performances and all are extremely committed to delivering the most loyal homage to the cartoon characters imaginable. Paulie Litt is completely annoying as Spritle, but to be fair, I think he's also being very loyal to the completely annoying character from the show.
It's now been nine years since the Wachoski's did The Matrix and they are starting to look like one-trick ponies. Their other directorial effort, Bound, was decent but certainly nothing to write home about. So that's one home run in five times out which is good for a .200 average and a trip to the minors in baseball.
Speed Racer feels as though the Wachowski siblings made it solely for themselves. At the screening last night, even kids were falling asleep. The parents in the row in front of me had to take their rugrats home midway through. I'd wager that anyone not still riveted by Baby Einstein is going to have a tough time with this one.