Friday, May 9, 2008

And then they threw the bee's nest.

I feel like a prophet who has just spoken to that I've seen something you haven't and when I tell you about it you're going to think I'm crazy. Speed Racer, despite it's critical trouncing and likely box office floundering, is a work of mad genius. That's right, genius. Genius fluff mind you, but genius nonetheless.

Let's get one thing out of the way immediately. Speed Racer is an adaptation of a popular 60's anime TV series and it remains for children and families. The advertising that is marketing this film for action junkies and hipsters is way, way off. This is a film for the young and young at heart, the people who clap for Tinkerbell, who hope that the force will be with Luke when he's going down the Death Star and the people who cheer for Mr. Smith's filibustering. The Wachowski's show that they have a deft hand for family material, ditching the dour tone of the Matrix sequels. The film quickly establishes the character of Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), first as a boy then as a young man, with two great loves: his family and racing. The start of the film is a cinematic ode to motion and momentum as there is always something moving rapidly in the frame and it's exhilarating. Even just watching young Speed Racer tapping away at his desk at school the opening quickly sets up everything you need to know about the universe of Speed Racer and it's central character.
The plot, in aping the cartoon series shows a civilization obsessed with racing. There is a bunch of fluff dealing with industrial espionage and market manipulation but it's just a bunch of silly garnish. Basically the upper echelons of racing are very corrupt and it's up to Speed, racing for the memory of his late brother Rex (Scott Porter aka Jason Street of FNL) to help the mysterious Racer X change the league (Matthew Fox having fun being the coolest guy in the room) and help his family's independent car company stay in business. Oh and what a family. There's designer Pops Racer (John Goodman), Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon), younger brother Spritle (sensational discovery Paulie Litt), mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) and Speed's girlfriend Trixie (sexy Christina Ricci, not being given that much to do). Then there's Chim-Chim. Chim-Chim is Spritle's pet chimpanzee, who gets into mischief with Spritle. He wears clothes and is with the family in every scene they appear in the film. Every. Scene. This includes fight scenes and dramatic scenes. If you're the type of person who thinks adding a live chimpanzee to anything makes it better then this absolutely 100% the movie for you. Speed cares deeply for his family and extended family and the whole crew is constantly supporting and sacrificing for each other it's a very nice value to have underlined in a major studio release.
Still this may all ring familiar with readership. What sets this film apart is its style and its visuals. The performances match up to the visuals, which lead to some unusual bits of movement and line-reading, it takes some getting used to but it errs more on the side of charming than odd. The Wachowskis stuff the frame with kinetic visuals in all but the most tender scenes (in those they choose, wisely, to focus on the characters). The races are dazzling and not quite like anything presented before in film (the racetracks with their loops and twists and pop-candy color are reminiscent of video games like Mario Kart and F-Zero) and go gloriously cartoonishly over-the-top (without spoiling too much you can refer to this review's title). The cars jump, smash and flip like martial artists and it's fairly mind-blowing. The same goes for sequences like the Racer family visiting the corporate headquarters of Royalton Motors where the Wachowskis firmly lift their middle fingers at Tim Burton's Chocolate Factory. It's not just visuals though. The actual shooting style, to quote Frank, "rapes the 180 degree rule." Dialogue scenes, montages, flashbacks, whip pans and dozens of other conventional techniques are skewed creating a frenetic and surreal cinematic language that will delight and amuse the curious.

I can completely understand the critics discarding the film and audiences laughing at it rather than with it, but there's really a lot of commendable risks being taken in this film. It's daring, exciting and nicely keeping with the films of summer thus far, fun. I would advise you to check out the trailer for the film and if you think you can handle the visuals without getting a headache than by all means give it a shot and discover one of the secret successes of the summer and be on the ground floor of a film that will attain a cult status sometime in the next five years.


Frank said...

When I told people about this movie last night, my praise wasn't even dismissed. People actually just looked right through me. Maybe in 25 years this film will get some seriously underground, Robert Altman's "Popeye" style love, but for now I have resigned this one into the "Movies I'll Always Love Despite the Fact that No One Else Does" category. It's nice to see that "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" will have some company.

Also, "Speed Racer" was a 60s cartoon, not an 80s cartoon. Also, hornets have nests; bees have hives. SOMEONE THREW A BEEHIVE AT YOUR BLOG!

sarah said...

Bees also have holes. Just saying.