Speed Racer, 1/5

Rated PG. Click here to view the trailer.

I knew I was in trouble when the woman and her gaggle of 8-year-old birthday party-goers sat down noisily in front of me. Things only got worse when she started passing out the tacos (seriously) and didn’t offer me one. Once the credits for Speed Racer were over and the movie began, things spiraled into a Technicolor hallucinogenic nosedive into the neon abyss. You know that residual image “burned” into your retina when you use a sparkler? For a whole hour after I left the theater, I had the entire movie ghosted before my eyes. Methinks that the directors, the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix Trilogy) need to up their Ritalin dosage.

And yet despite ADD-feel and the seizure-inducing visuals, this movie drags on and on (and on). If I had to write a punny headline for this review, it would include the phrase, “Slow, Speed Racer, Slow!” (Other candidates: “No, Speed Racer, No!” “Blow, Speed Racer, Blow!” or my personal favorite, “D’oh, Speed, D’oh!”

So slow, in fact, that I’ve tried and tried but can’t remember how the movie began. Somehow, we’re introduced to the uber-vague plot. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) likes to drive futuristic, full-sized Hot Wheels, mostly because his brother, Rex (Scott Porter), does it. Well, that, and his legal name is Speed Racer. He really had no choice: Pop and Mom Racer (John Goodman, looking like Mario, and Susan Sarandon) pretty much decided his destiny for him with that name. Come to think of it, it’s pretty lucky that a guy named Pop married a woman name Mom.

Rex dies in a racing tragedy and the evil, purple clad racing promoter Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam, trying his darndest to be Tim Curry) is trying to recruit Speed, while Matthew Fox’s Racer X (no relation to the Racer clan… or is he?) drives as Speed’s wingman. Fenderman. Whatever.

Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s gal pal who flies a helicopter while looking disturbingly like a young Sarandon. There’s also a annoying younger brother (Sprinkle? Sprocket? Spider?) and a poo-flinging chimpanzee. That’s right folks, a poo-flinging chimp. There’s also some ninjas thrown in for good measure. “More like nunjas,” cracks Pop Racer. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.

That’s the plot. Now try stretching that into 129 minutes. There’s a “you’re kidding me” moment at least once every ten minutes. I thought the movie was mercifully wrapping up at one point, but no, we still had another act and a half to go.

Speed Racer’s racing scenes should be exciting because, heck, they’re racing scenes plus the word SPEED is in the title. But the ridiculous speed and physics-defying nature of these races sucks any excitement out of the process, if that’s possible. Imagine a driving a high-speed bumper car with strobe lights threatening to blind you, all while someone is throwing Skittles and Fruity Pebbles in your face. There’s absolutely no danger, except that you’ll get a stray Skittle stuck in your eye.

It’d be much more entertaining to watch any NASCAR event (heck, I’d rather watch 129 minutes of this), because at least there’s a vague sense of excitement and danger. The “cars” in this movie ram into each other and fight with various offensive and defensive weapons at hundreds of miles an hour, but not a single car even gets scratched, especially not Speed’s precious Mach 5 (or 6). If a driver is thrown from the car, they’re instantly surrounded in a protective balloon or they parachute to safety, shaking their fist at Speed all the way down.

I suppose you can’t have too much intense or violent action in a PG movie, but maybe that’s the problem. More accurately, it’s ONE of the problems. This could have been an awesome movie if it had been much darker and… I don’t know. Not lame. Quentin Tarantino would have made an AMAZING Speed Racer, even if you held him to a zero body count and made him keep the poo-flinging chimp. I also would have preferred to get a taco.

There were only three things I enjoyed about this movie: 1) Christina Ricci is cute in her bob haircut; 2) I enjoyed the way the Speed Racer theme song was integrated into the sound track and 3) I now know what it’s like to take an LSD trip.

I’ve never seen the original 1967 “cartoon” that inspired the movie, but I doubt that would make a difference in my judgment of this movie. Something tells me kitsch like Speed belongs on collectible lunch boxes, and not the big screen sandwiched between Iron Man and Indiana Jones IV.


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