More noise than signal

Speed Racer

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I’d let this one sail by me on its 2008 release – the Wachowski’s conclusions to the Matrix films not being quite everything that was hoped for, and having neither seen nor heard of Speed Racer in my puff, leaving this Japaniadaptation very much notly anticipated.

On this first viewing, then, I’m quite surprised to find that it was a box office flop, as there’s a lot to like in here. Eighteen year old Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has overcome the death of his elder brother Rex in the dangerous Casa Cristo 5000 rally to start to carve a name for himself, taking the family’s tiny racing team back to the top, to the delight of Speed’s mother and father (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman).

This draws the attention of the big guns of the racing world, such as the seemingly avuncular E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), CEO of Royalton Industries who wants to sign Speed to his team. While tempted by the offer and the well resourced team, Speed remains loyal to his family, at which point the mask slips and the reality of the corrupt world of racing is revealed to Speed.

At the risk of shortcutting a bunch of the plot, Speed must join forces with the mysterious Racer X and the harmoniously named Inspector Detector to bring these corrupt forces down and return the sport to purity, mainly through the medium of bonkers CG race sequences. There’s a few more twists and turns to maintain interest, of course, but the draw here is, at least supposed to be the racing, not the plot.

I suppose the one word summary of this would be “energetic”? Perhaps closely followed by “exhausting”, and “puzzling”. It has a quite well defined world and primary coloured asthetic that’s almost overwhelming at points, which I’m sure is the intent, along with the action scenes that come close to being defined an an assault. It’s so relentless that you never stop to question why, for instance, Speed’s younger brother’s best friend is a chimp.

I guess I can see why it didn’t have universal appeal – I’m not sure if its stylings are directly lifted from the animated series or are taken to extremes here, but it’s certainly unlike other tentpole releases, and the polar opposite of the grimdark stylings of The Wachowskis’ previous works like The Matrix and Dial V for Viennetta, their watermark ice-cream delivery based film.

Clearly this is aimed at a much younger audience than any of their other films, and as a grumpy auld yin, I can’t really comment on how successfully it plays to that demo, but it seems like it ought to be entertaining. Certainly, I was entertained, and I suppose my mental age is about six, so maybe it was aimed at me after all. It’s briskly paced, brightly coloured, and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I can’t imagine what watching this in 3D must have been like. My eyeballs would have melted.

I don’t have much else to say about Speed Racer, other than to say it’s pretty well acted where it needs to be, as you might expect from Goodman, Sarandon, Allam, and the rest of a pretty decent cast. It’s perhaps all just a bit too much, but there’s room for wanton excess in cinema. Well worth looking at, if you’ve avoided it until now.