Speed Racer Review
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It’s been five years since the Wachowskis released the final film in the Matrix trilogy—and nearly a decade since The Matrix stunned audiences with its mind-blowing, ground-breaking effects. So when I heard that the Wachowskis were coming out of their apparent hibernation to direct the big-screen version of the popular late-‘60s animated series, Speed Racer, I knew that I was in for one outrageous cinematic spectacle.

And a spectacle it is. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s talk about the story.

Emile Hirsch stars as the title character, a talented young racer who dreams of being the best. Though he’s still haunted by the untimely death of his racing older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), he’s also determined to honor Rex’s memory by picking up where his brother left off.

  
 
After Speed turns down a contract with big-time racing sponsor Royalton (Roger Allam), Royalton threatens to make life difficult for the Racer family. When those threats become reality, Speed wants nothing more than to stop him. So when the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) comes to him with an opportunity to dig up some incriminating evidence on Royalton, Speed can’t turn it down—even if it means disregarding his father’s warnings.

Speed Racer’s story is every bit as difficult to follow as it is to explain. There’s a lot going on here—and, at times, the story gets in the way of the fun stuff, and it makes the movie drag. That definitely isn’t a good thing—especially when you consider that it’s already over two hours long.

But even though the needlessly complex story helps to make Speed Racer completely overwhelming, it’s still worth seeing—just for the experience. Unless, that is, you suffer from seizures. Then you might want to pass.

Speed Racer is one frenetic blur of vibrant primary colors. It’s frantic racing action with lots of close-ups and wild transitions—and all the hyperactive flash of some crazy kids’ anime. It’s futuristic, but it also picks up on that late-‘60s mod look from the original series. At times, it feels like a high-speed video game. At others, it feels like a cartoon. But the whole thing is complete sensory overload. Some of the scenes will take your breath away—and the constant flash of colors will make your head spin. And when you walk out of the theater, it’ll be hours before you can see straight again.

Though Speed Racer is rated PG—and it’s somewhat geared toward kids—be warned that it’s a long movie. While the action scenes will definitely hold young viewers’ attention, I noticed that the kids with whom I shared the theater seemed to start losing interest after about a half hour. (I also noticed that, after sitting through it, they were prone to leave the theater and run around in circles a lot.) Even I found myself zoning out for the last 45 minutes or so. Eventually, I had to give up on keeping track of the story and allow myself just to take it all in. There’s so much to see that you can’t do both; you can’t pay attention to the story and experience all the whiz-bang effects at the same time.

If the story had been simpler—and if the movie had been 45 minutes shorter—Speed Racer would have been spectacular work of cinematic art from the Wachowskis. As it is, it’s just a little too much: too much story, too much flash. It’s still worth checking out—because of the spectacle of it all—but be warned that it’s totally overwhelming. Make sure you see it when you’ve got plenty of time to recover afterwards.


DVD Review:
Though the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer was quite a spectacle on the big screen, some movies are just easier to watch on DVD—and this is one of them. Sure, you don’t get to see the cool, whiz-bang effects in the same larger-than-life setting. But, on the other hand, it probably won’t do the same ocular damage on a smaller screen. Not only that, but kids can watch the movie in smaller chunks, as their attention span allows.

Though the DVD release isn’t packed with extras, the two special features are definitely worth checking out. The first, Spritle in the Big Leagues, is a making-of feature that explores the film’s Berlin set with young actor Paulie Litt, who interviews various members of the crew as he learns about all the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into making this outrageous adventure. The second, Speed Racer: Supercharged! is a faux documentary on the World Racing League, featuring an up-close look at the racing teams, drivers, tracks, and the cars. It’s packed with fascinating schematics and illustrations—and it’s narrated with amusing fake-jargon and techno-babble.

Though this big-screen blast from the past wasn’t a box-office smash, it’s still a wild and crazy adventure that will mesmerize Speed Racer fans of all ages—and that’s enough to make it worth checking out on DVD.

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