Speed Racer is not a movie, it is two hours of bad special effects fused onto a lot of music, loud noises and corporate logos. From the special effects, I was not dazzled. From the music, I wasn’t dancing. From the action scenes, I wasn’t thrilled. From the corporate logos, I was not inspired to buy anything. Here is an entire movie made up of images that you might see on the video screen of a dance club.
The story is only a connective tissue between special effects. It involves a kid named Speed who, from childhood, has had an addiction to . . . well, speed (not the pill). His brother was a legendary race track driver who was killed on the track. Speed grows up with the need for speed and the to honor his fallen brother. Now grown up, he struggles with his Pop while fighting off an evil corporate suit who wants to give him corporate sponsorship. Speed, we learn, has been raised to believe that corporate sponsorship is one step up from selling your soul to the devil (he says this).
The “movie” is based on a popular cult TV series from the late 60’s which had a certain square-jawed charm. Here there is no charm, Speed Racer takes place in a strange netherworld that doesn’t resemble a coherent landscape. We see real actors who are super-imposed over fake computerized backgrounds that seem to resemble the same six-color world as a board game. What world is this? What are its boundaries? What are the rules. There is never a moment when you get the feeling that the landscape of Speed Racer is a real place.
The characters in this movie are more or less superfluous. They speak in a kind of listless boilerplate:
Father: “You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!”
Son: “Maybe not, but it’s the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something.”
That might not bother me if such dialogue didn’t come from such a talented cast. They’re all here: John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox from TV’s “Lost” Plus, there’s the young and talented Emile Hirsch in the title role who was so wonderful in Into the Wild that it is heartbreaking to see him wasting his time on dialogue like: “Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy!”
At heart, this is a racing picture, but the thrills supposedly generated by the racing scenes are drowned by the fact that the races make no logical sense. There is no sense of gravity so we never have the feeling that drivers are in danger at all. There is a very lazy style of editing employed here in which we can never comprehend what we are looking at, we don’t know where one driver is in relation to another. There are lots of flashes and noise and shots of cars whizzing by one another but we never sense that they are in the same space. The tracks have no logic, they are all computer-generated, resembling the corkscrew roller coaster at Six Flags infused with neon lights. When the cars buzz along, they look like plastic toys. They fly up in the air and to flips and spins and turns that no car in the history of the universe would ever be able to pull off.
Speed Racer isn’t filmmaking, it’s commerce. It is the most cynical kind of commercial filmmaking, the kind in which a beloved brand name is bought and paid for and then studio executives convince themselves that their work is already done. The audience will be drawn in by that name, so they figure their work is already done. That’s a cruel disservice to the legion of fans who have fond memories of that old cartoon show. What will they get here? Nothing. Nothing but a waste of their precious time and money. So too will time and money be stolen from fans of Speed Racer‘s directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, who turned The Matrix into a pop culture phenomenon. The brothers, so talented with that film series and their earlier film, the great caper Bound have thrown away their talent and given in to the basist forms of commercialism. What is depressing experience this is.