It was a huge surprise when the Wachowski Brothers, after making two cult favorites - The Matrix and V for Vendetta, announced that they were going to make a live-action movie based on the widely popular cartoon series Speed Racer. Somehow no one expected them to shift gear from making such mature art-films to a cartoon adaptation. After running after people like Shia Labeouf, Elisha Cuthbert, and Keanu Reeves, they ended up with Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and Matthew Fox. Replacements who are given a huge responsibility to bring the cartoon to life.
Before walking into the theater one must bear in mind that it is a cartoon adaptation. No one expects this to be groundbreaking cinema by any means. It is not an attempt at making a cult classic. To start off with, after watching it one will realize that the movie is aimed at audiences aged between 5 and 10. No one would ever expect the Wachowski's to come up with a film aimed at children. But, they have. It doesn't fail. But it doesn't succeed either.
Right from the word Go, Speed Racer is hugely dependent on its visual effects and sound, which are both considerably good. Background music is like the cartoon itself. The title track is kept on hold till the closing credits. The whole movie is shot in front of a bluescreen it seems. Except for scenes inside a house, or in a garage, everything is CGI. The races are what attracts one most to the movie. They get your adrenaline pumping. Its like Fast and the Furious, animated. And that itself is the biggest let down. Its too much eye-candy, and less movie.
The film itself is too long to be a children's movie, stretching to over two hours. The first hour and a half is quite boring. Too much politics and stock market. The stylization, like the cartoon itself, is very good. It is what keeps one interested for the whole length of the movie. There is too much detail when it comes to the plot, too less character development. Only Speed seems to be important. One forgets that there are others in the movie as well. There are really too many sequences which try to be funny, with Speed's little brother Spritle and his chimpanzee Chim-chim. Only one, right at the end, succeeds.
Matthew Fox is the one who stands out in this wannabe artsy adaptation. He has great screen presence. He's lost a lot of weight it seems, and he has never looked better. John Goodman, Susan Sarandon play the parents well. Christina Ricci is a treat to the eyes. She looks years younger than she really is. Roger Allum plays the villain, Royalton. He's vicious with his dialogues, the cartoon element adds to the viciousness. I dont know why they'd want Shia Labeouf to play Speed Racer because he is too tall. There is no doubt about his talent though. Emile Hirsch, however, fits the bill perfectly. Although he still is growing as an actor, his casting as Speed Racer is perfect.
Speed Racer is a film with a million and one flaws from the starting itself, where instead of concentrating on the race, there is more attention paid to showing the history of the characters. An efficient technique, if only they did it well. Someone will have to explain to me how Spritle and his little chimpanzee survived in the dickey of the Mach 5 when the car was travelling at over 300miles per hour. Racer X seems to be the only character who doesn't do anything cartoonish, which is a good thing. He's cool.
The last quarter of an hour is what saves the film. The Grand Prix race is breathtaking. An old fashioned Colosseum-style stadium, the track and the race itself, with the efficient use of flashbacks, is a treat to watch. The last fifteen minutes is when the Wachowski Brothers got down to being themselves when making a movie. It is perfectly made. From the roar of the crowd, much like what we saw in the Quidditch World Cup Final in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, to the flash of the cameras, it just clicks.
Speed Racer, minus all the adults talking about the stock market, minus Spritle and his annoying chimpanzee hogging the screen time, minus 20 minutes, probably would have been something better. If they ever make a sequel to this, they'll have to put a lot of work into it. If you watch this, remember that it is based on a cartoon and that is exactly how it is made. Like a cartoon. That done, you might just like it by the time it ends.
Good visual effects, good music. Otherwise just a 5.5/10 in my book. Expected better. Then again, it is based on a cartoon. (Next Week - The Chronicles of Narnia : Prince Caspian)