Movie Review: Speed Racer

This weekend we pulled out a movie from last summer that we had not watched recently.  This reminded me that I had wanted to review it then.  Rather than let it go again, I resolve to review it now.

Speed Racer was pretty universally panned when it opened in early summer 2008.  Complaints ranged from too flashy and frenetic to too long to just another innocent versus corporate titan story.  For me, and I am in my 40s, so I watched the original comic series as a youth, this film is one of the best I have seen.  It does pit an innocent against a ruthless corporate titan.  But it does it better than other such stories.  There is a reason you feel for Speed Racer and hate Royalton.

Speed Racer is from a family who is at peace with each other.  It is a family who really is there for each other.  The chimp is a bit of a bolt on, but hey he was there in the cartoon so you could not leave him out.  But Speed is the kind of person I have encountered in many areas in life before.  He is the racer that really lives, eats and breathes racing.  I have known hockey players like that.  Everything about their lives was oriented around hockey.  They were the best players.  I have known business people like that.  Everything was oriented around their business.  They were the best businessmen.  I have known traders like that.  They were the best traders.  And Speed is the best racer.  So when you learn that racing is not just pure joy for all those in the business, but something more venal, there is some substance there, which is manifestly not the case with the vast majority of stories on screen or off that use this theme.

The movie is over the top.  The visuals, particularly the sky and clouds when young speed is hanging out with young trixie, is like a big Psilocybin trip.  And that is the fun.  The movie is highly stylized to the point of being surreal.  And contrary to some reviews I have read, I thought the acting was outstanding.  The film was executed flawlessly, the cast perfectly suited to the task.  Nothing seems forced or stupid to me.  I really care what happens, especially during the penultimate race where the female announcer captures the kinetic climax with her “Speed Racer Aaaaggghhhh!!!” scream.  I could watch it over and over again.  Even if the movie did not make the Wachowskis and Joel Silver a lot of money, it is one of my all-time favorites.

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