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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Speed Racer (2008) Review: Fires on all Cylinders but may leave casual viewers in the dust

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Childlike nostalgia, great fun, revolutionary visuals, heart warming character drama, deeper anti-corporate message, faithful to the original show that inspired the movie, great fun for the whole family.

The Bad: "Childlike"-ness may put off viewers expecting something more serious, simplistic story, flashbacks may distract viewers

Current Availability Status: On DVD in most stores at discount prices

DVD features:
- Spritle in the big leagues: child actor Paulie Litt gives a tour of the movie set
- Speed Racer Supercharged: featurette about he characters, cars and racetracks

DVD value for money grade: C

The original 1960s anime "Speed Racer" was never a big hit here in Singapore. Anyone with the faintest memory of that old series might remember the intriguing stories and intense high speed races. However they might not remember The crappy animation, the over the top acting, campy dialogue lines, and the one-dimensional portrayal of the characters. It was a kids' anime, aimed squarely at the same crowd that watches Fintstones or Jetsons. The Wachowski Brothers (same guys who created The Matrix) were very aware of the anime's juvenile tone and only tried to preserve it. However, thanks to a flawed marketing campaign, people expected another "Matrix" or "V for Vendetta", not a heart warming family centered underdog story that Speed Racer is.

The story is Pure nostalgia; simple enough to follow and aimed squarely at everyone's inner 12 year old. In a sci/fi alternate future, extreme formula 1 racing is all the rage and big multi national companies are hoping to profit from the popularity of the races through the famouse "World Racing League"(WRL). For years, Pops Racer has run his humble family owned car buisness with his wife and his sons, Rex and Speed. Young Speed practically hero worships his elder brother who has won much acclaim for the family name through winning races in his car, the Mach 5. But one day tragedy strikes and Rex perishes during a cross country rally due to suspected foul play. The family is shattered but they manage to pull through together as young Speed trains to become a driver just as good as his dear departed brother. Years later, Speed Racer's gift for racing has won the attention of the insidious "Royalton industries", a Corporate conglomorate interested only in profiting from racing. Though Speed politely refuses their offer to buy out the family buisness, Royalton lays down the ultimtum: either join us or be forever ruined. A clash of values and a startling revelation of a hidden race fixing conspiracy within the WRL sets the Racer family on another run in with tragedy. But this time help appears in the form of the mysterious Racer X who offers the family a chance to not only win back their reputation but to blow the WRL conspiracy wide open nad bring the coporate moguls behind the race fixing to justice.

The first thing anyone would notice about Speed Racer would be the adrenaline pumping races and astounding visuals. Everything is pure eye candy right out of a child's colorful imagination. Gravity defying stunts, rapid drift spins and car against car action set against the backdrop of a lively rainbow colored future world. The film definitely looks the part of a live action anime thanks to the Wachowski brothers' dynamic filming technique. Little anime-styled touches like freeze frames, slo-mo cuts to close ups and superimposing of talking heads into the action further emphasises the amount of respect the directors had for the source material.

That same respect translates into the story which never tries to be any more complicated than the saturday morning cartoon it is based on. But wait, dig deeper in between the lines and the you will see that the Wachowski's have added a hidden level of complexity to this film Not wanting to exclude the older crowd, the Wachowski brothers have blended in some thought provoking themes and heart warming drama into the narrative. Simple, everyday moral teachings like family togetherness, brotherly love and sticking by one's friends are interwoven with more complex allegories about corporate manipulation, finding one's calling and purpose.

Now if "The Matrix" catered to the mind, Speed Racer caters to the heart. Thanks to terrific acting, great casting, and excellent writing, the characters really shine with interactions and dialogue that make you forget that they are merely actors playing their roles. As the characters go through joy, sorrow, tragedy and victory, it is just so easy to relate to them like real people in a real family. Even the "villains" like Royalton and Togokahn have a believable motive for doing what they do. In no time, this movie will have you rooting for the underdog and cheering our young protagonist on as he guns the car around the track.

All in all, The team that brought us Matrix and V for Vendetta lives up to the hype once again. They deliver a faithful big screen adaptation of a classic anime that fires on all cylinders; containing a well balanced blend of seriousness and fun, of thought provoking issues and realistic performances. All the while, it retains the child-like nostalgia of innocent times long past. This movie is definitely for only the open minded viewers and the long time fans(and seeing as how Speed racer is a VERY old show, and haven't been updating with the times like Transformers or gundam, its fan base is dwindling). All else would get lost in the kaleidoscope of swirling colors and explosive races.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want a fun little family story to remind you of a time when you were still a child and when the world was still full of wonder
Avoid it: if you are expecting a mind boggling philosophical epic or a political intrigue satire.

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Acting: A
Characters: A
Replay value: B
"Brains": B-

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