Combustible Celluloid
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With: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Richard Roundtree, Benno Furmann
Written by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, based on the anime by Tatsuo Yoshida
Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of action, some violence and language
Running Time: 136
Date: 28/04/2008

Speed Racer (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fast Cars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, Speed Racer was instantly slammed upon its summertime release; critics hated it and audiences stayed away. I missed it on the big screen, but caught up with it on the new DVD. Perhaps it's not as visually overwhelming or headache inducing on the small screen, or perhaps all the digital trickery congeals better on the home format, but I have to admit I enjoyed myself. I will agree, however, that at 135 minutes it's oppressively long, but it's far lighter and more playful than the Wachowskis' last attempt, the dreadful The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

Emile Hirsch stars as Speed Racer, whose older brother has died in a crash. Now on the verge of a promising career, corporations come knocking at his door looking for endorsement deals. The evil corporate giant Royalton (Roger Allam) is the first one to tempt him, but when Speed turns him down, he makes life for the Racers impossible. So Speed teams up with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to bring down the villain. It all ends at the Grand Prix. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon co-star as Speed's supportive parents (and his mechanics), with Christina Ricci has his devoted girl Trixie.

The Wachowskis present the movie much like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), in a completely artificial, computer-generated universe, with bold, candy/kaleidoscope colors and crisp, glossy surfaces. During the races, the cars move at breakneck speeds, flipping and lurching all over, but with a remarkable clarity (thankfully, the Wachowskis have avoided the Michael Bay method of camera-shaking). The actors look scrubbed and painted, but their humanity still comes through; you can feel the family bond. (Ricci, who already comes close to a cartoon character, actually looks great.) The movie's biggest problem is the inclusion of the super-obnoxious younger brother Spritle Racer (Paulie Litt), and his pet monkey. (The PG-rated movie was ostensibly aimed at family audiences, which may have been a mistake.)

Warner Home Video's DVD looks spectacular enough that it made me forget the fact that I don't yet own a Blu-Ray player or a high-def television. It comes with only two extras: a tour of the set hosted by Spritle (I couldn't watch) and a very unusual featurette that avoids the usual talking heads. The Wachowskis are pretty mysterious and reclusive folks and don't usually pony up the bonus features, so I suspect that this is probably it. (No "special edition" coming anytime soon.)

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