‘Speed Racer’ Condemns Franchise Dignity, But Delivers Sensorial Explosion

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5CHICAGO – While Hollywood slapped “PG” on the hotly anticipated “Speed Racer” to line its pocketbooks with the widest hodgepodge of people (ahem: kids) everywhere, those same kids will leave the theater with that lollipop nearly sucked to the stick but then yanked away with confusion.

Rather than the “go!” marketing hype, this is a stop-and-go proposition. Chicago brothers Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski are ultimately wrangling with a clear identity crisis of who this film is meant for.

Emile Hirsch in Speed Racer
Emile Hirsch in “Speed Racer”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Is it the 1967 crowd who adored the American anime version following the Japanese manga creation?

Emile Hirsch (top) and Christina Ricci in Speed Racer
Emile Hirsch (top) and Christina Ricci in “Speed Racer”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Is it for today’s children who didn’t grow up with the franchise but will magically identify with it from scratch because it’s on the big screen? Perhaps it’s for “The Matrix” crowd who slobber over the Wachowski’s sensory orgy?

A slathering of all of the above will be influenced by the omnipresent advertising and power of the Wachowski name, which has been catapulted to stardom with the trail-blazing triumph of “The Matrix” films.

But with summer blockbuster season in full effect for 2008, moviegoers won’t spend in droves the way they recently did with “Iron Man,” which is so far the best-reviewed film of the year.

With a production budget of $140 million, “Iron Man” has already earned $220 million in worldwide box-office receipts in its first six days of release, according to Box Office Mojo. With a production budget of $100 million, “Speed Racer” won’t see those kind of box-office numbers.

Despite its bevy of blemishes, you can’t deny its color. There’s an intense vibrancy to the environment that – while unrealistic in the real world – is beautifully charming in Hollywood’s CGIville.

Knowing they had to hop beyond another planet in the solar system following 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions,” the Wachowskis don’t disappoint in the “Speed Racer” special effects department.

The brothers continue to break new ground, and in doing so, they play an important role in inspiring other visionaries to forge new lines of thinking.

Matthew Fox (middle) in Speed Racer
Matthew Fox (middle) in “Speed Racer”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Just as “The Matrix” in 1999 had sequences that have been among the most emulated in Hollywood today over the past decade, the Wachowskis continue to up their own bar.

As for Emile Hirsch as the namesake Speed Racer character, his meek and chill demeanor off the racetrack and then world-champion talent on it displays light years of transformation. This is only one year after playing a wilderness hitchhiker in the Oscar-nominated 2007 film “Into the Wild”.

That, too, came a long way from the boy Hirsch played in “The Girl Next Door”.

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As Hirsch returns to boyhood in “Speed Racer” under the inspiration of John Goodman as his “Pops” and Susan Sarandon as his mom, you’re left with the sense that he works in the playful role but hasn’t quite figured out his destiny in the bird’s eye view of his acting career.

Christina Ricci – who bested Rose McGowan (the Wachowskis felt she was too old) for the part of Trixie in “Speed Racer” – has also come full circle since memorably playing Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family” in 1991. Due to the campy nature of “Speed Racer,” she has on one hand grown up and on another regressed back to that same child.

Larry Wachowski, by the way, is not actually Lana Wachowski. Because the Wachowski brothers decline interviews with the press, rumors surfaced in 2003 that Larry was undergoing a sex change. In 2007, Wachowski producer Joel Silver debunked the rumor. He said: “They just don’t do interviews, so people make things up.”

In April 2008, news surfaced that the reclusive Wachowski brothers will be opening a post-production studio on Chicago’s north side.

“Speed Racer” opened on May 9, 2008.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2008 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

PatrickMcD's picture

HankQ Unmasked! Notes from the IMAX

Like Racer X, I am no longer HankQ but unmasked as HollywoodChicago.com Film Writer Patrick McDonald! Astounding.

I was an ardent and intense admirer of Speed Racer when I was a kid. It was rerun on Channel 32 daily (later Channel 44) here in the Chicagoland area and it balanced the sappiness of the family with the speed of racing, if you will.

I think the Wachowski’s did a great job with the character of the old cartoon. It was a garish affair, no doubt, but they never forgot the aspect of family in the old series (and the mystery of Racer X). I was hooked, lined and sunk on this. I did opine afterward, would anyone enjoy if they didn’t know the cartoon? There might be the flaw.

The only disappointment? Speed didn’t roll on the ground with a machine gun. Enjoy if you loved the series.

PMcD’s in a band! www.myspace.com/thetelepaths

PatrickMcD's picture

Further Commentary

On my personal blog, I pontificate further on the essence of both the TV series and film, “Speed Racer.”

Here He Comes

Patrick McDonald is a film writer for HollywoodChicago, and most recently as HankQ, until he was unmasked! PMcD’s is also in a band! www.myspace.com/thetelepaths

shaun's picture

Why Speed Racer Succeeds and the Critics Fail

While Hollywood slapped “PG” on the hotly anticipated “Speed Racer” to line its pocketbooks with the widest hodgepodge of people (ahem: kids)”

WRONGGGG! The WACHOWSKIS intentionally made a PG movie because Speed Racer is a subversive film attempting to literally “fight the powers that be” with a subtle and complex story which works on two levels: First, there’s the surface story, a simple tale of a kid who is a natural born talent in race car driving. This aspect of the story works purely as *metaphor*, and if you don’t “get” that, your are, by definition, quite daft. The *subtext* of the film is where its subversiveness lies. It wasn’t “Hollywood” trying to “cash in” on a “PG” rating by “marketing it to kids”; rather, the PG-rating is a *Trojan Horse* intended to slip a subversive anti-corporate fable directly into the midst of the American Nuclear Family Unit. In this respect, Speed Racer approaches the vanishing-point of unadulterated genius. And besides, it’s a FUN movie - remember them-? Obvioulsy not, since you bring your overtly critical mentality to this flick firing on all cyclinders. I’ve never read such a glut of over-the-top and creatively original DESCRIPTIONS of a movie, and coming more often than not from its detractors ! Get with the program and understand that the film, by being a daring adaptation of a *children’s manga*, not to mention its over-the-top action sequences and incredibly deft editing and cinematography, succeeds at the impossible endeavor of refuting any and all conventions Hollywood would otherwise be forcing down our throats.

You Speed Racer haters just don’t get it, do ya ? Who’s paying you to write this crap -?— Bill O’reilly -?- Fox news — ? You are all hopelessly corrupt and I’ll bet every single last one of you would never have even THOUGHT of NOT signing the contract which Speed Racer refused to sign. Am I right -? Grow Down a little bit you’re on the verge of falling into your caskets.

Following is a link to my own rant about the movie (keep in mind my “review” is meant to be illuminating and FUN;)

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=4577854&…

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Response to your payment question

shaun wrote:
Who’s paying you to write this crap -?— Bill O’reilly -?- Fox news — ?

None of the above. HollywoodChicago.com is independently run and operated. We are objective and accredited journalists, and in our reviews, we state opinions based on years of experience in doing so. We are merely supported by the ads you see on the site.

To the rest of your response, that’s certainly your opinion and you’re entitled to it. If that is indeed the case, I’d retort that it’s entirely too complicated for the layman to understand and respect.

Shaun's picture

"Entirely Too Complicated"

Thanks for your response. (Also please forgive the crude phrasing of my question.) But just think. Do we really need more “dumbed down” movies? Certainly that’s not what you intended to convey, is it ? Anyhow I’ve launched my own investigation into the ‘extended network’ of critical reviews gathered by Rottentomatoes.com - - in order to study the percentage of negative vs. favorable reviews for this movie - - by including the reader’s comments — in order to determine if there’s any validity to my theory that there is a “smear campaign” being waged against the Wachowskis. I’m sure the truth is more like you suggest - that rather than a conspiratorial campaign, it probably just boils down to the plain fact that most American movie audiences today are just too daft to appreciate the Wachowski’s subtleties.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Dumbing down / Unprofitable

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that film should be dumbed down. I for one very much enjoy and respect the Wachowskis and their work. I just stand by certain criticisms about them in their latest film.

As for a conspiracy campaign against them, I personally don’t believe in that especially considering the world of respect they’ve achieved from their work on “The Matrix” films. I believe that set the bar high for them and “Speed Racer” was a let down in some ways.

The numbers don’t lie. History has already shown that “Speed Racer” was severely unprofitable. On a production budget of $120 million, the film so far has worldwide box-office receipts of only $32.2 million. That’s an “ouch” if I’ve ever seen one.

angel dawson's picture

speed racer

I saw the movie Speed racer and really it was very good. Angel

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