Thursday, April 4, 2013

Retro Review: Speed Racer (2008) or, Go Speed Racer, Go - a Go-for-Broke Diatribe in Defense of a Pretty Damn Silly Movie

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  This piece on the mostly maligned Speed Racer film, has been added to, here and there, before being republished here and now.


Yes, yes, in the past I very well may have kvetched and harrumphed, snorted and grumbled, picked and nit-picked about how movies such as 300, The Matrix and all their CGI-splattered ilk have blurred the line between cinema and video games to such an indistinguishable level as to render the distinction null and void - yet another cog in the dumbing down of society - but can't a guy be a hypocrite every now and then if he so desires?   But I digress.  Hot-wheeling that aforementioned blurred line right into the star-studded, flash-bulbed neo-oblivion is The Wachowskis' Speed Racer, and right there I am, like a bird with a brand new shiny silver dollar pulsating in his beak, praising it for the exact same things I condemned all those other films for being.   Well, ain't I just the little bastard?

In all sincerity though, even though Speed Racer is nothing more than a candy-coated confectionery cookie of a movie, and very possibly the cinematic anti-christ to boot (I think I accused 300 of being the same thing), it is also quite the - dare I say it for fear of sounding the walking cliché - thrill ride motion picture of the Summer.   Pop kitsch and powder-puff pretty - not to mention quite the seizure-inducing spazz-attack of lights action and bang-bang colour - Speed Racer may not be any great revelation in cinema - not the next probing poetry of Pasolini, nor the next Tarkovskian grand guignol - nor is it particularly well-written (all the parts that don't involve racing are as dry as tumbleweed rice cakes), and there are quite a few questionable actions in the film (as there were in the TV series as well - like how does he not recognize Racer X as his own brother - and do not even get me started on the blatant rip-off of Marvel Comics' Cyclops in Racer X's look), but for sheer unadulterated abandon-all-ye-hope fun, it sure is the kook-kook-kookiest, the kick-kick-kickiest, the groove-groove-grooviest of mod movie mayhem.  It is certainly the living end, friends.

Nearly universally panned by my fellow critics (deep deep deep into the red on Metacritic, and squished into oblivion on Rotten Tomatoes), I stand (almost) completely alone atop my wobbly soapbox of indignation as I trumpet the wildly fun qualities of this inexplicably enjoyable mess of a motion picture.   Hypocritically or not, I suppose those things other critics are decrying are the very things this critic is going cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs over.   As opposed to 300, which did have its own uniquely delirious visual audacity to it (I actually enjoyed the visual aspects of that film much more than my constant stabs at it, would leave you to believe), Speed Racer works as pure CGI porn.   The bright primal colours that would make Jean-Luc Godard blush like a little schoolgirl.   The impossibly brazen race tracks criss-crossing like coked-up spider webs against a diamond sky painted just for Lucy.   The Anime-esque characterizations of its picture perfect cast where everyone - and not just Christina Ricci - look like mondo Manga.   The candied pop art Asianess of the whole glittering, shimmering, glimmering shebang in all its glaring, gaudy, greedy good looks.   It all works, despite its many flaws and myriad setbacks, just exactly as it is supposed to work - as a live-action cartoon.

Truth be told, perhaps my enthusiasms are a bit on the wide-eyed innocent side (yeah, I can still be innocent, dammit!), for even though it bubble, bubbles, toil and troubles precariously close to the visual art films of Seijun Suzuki, Takeshi Miike and even Tarantino's bloody Kill Bill concoction, it never really becomes like those films - never delves any deeper than its own metallic surface - but still manages to act as a conduit between the dregs of the genre and its mightily heralded cinematic Silver Surfers.   IMAX-grade bombast one colleague has said.   Sure, it may not be high art - or even middle art - but even this jaded critic, full of a classist snobbery and palpitating pretensions out the proverbial wazoo can still enjoy a five dollar hooker now and again.   And that is precisely what the pedantically popcorny Speed Racer is - a cheap, but very well-dressed, whore of a movie.  It need be nothing more.

[Originally published on 05/18/08 at The Cinematheque]


Andrew Robinson said...

I'm with you sir.. I adore this film. I've been championing it ever since I saw it in the theatres and watched the world walk out angry (for no reason I must say). I still laugh uncontrollably everytime I see the scene of the child and the monkey watching cartoons and notice he's wearing monkey pyjamas and the monkey is wearing person pyjamas.

Kevyn Knox said...

Glad to hear from someone on my side.

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