Evil is not a primary color. That is the point of the Wachowski brothers’ video-arcade treatment of Speed Racer, insofar as one can be determined. Blue, you can trust. Red and yellow, black and white — they’re all decent visible wavelengths. It’s purple you have to watch out for.
This is notable only because whatever information that passes from your retinas to your brain during Speed Racer is conveyed through optical design and not so much through more traditional devices such as dialogue, narrative, performance or characterization. Like the animated TV series that inspired this movie, you could look at it with the sound off and it wouldn’t matter.
Speed Racer is not a feature film in any conventional sense — although there is nothing so conventional in today’s marketplace as a corporate product based on a campy vintage TV show that is developed for extremely brief exhibition in multiplexes on its way to more appropriate platforms such as DVD and video games, which provide the principal justification for its manufacture in the first place.
Neither is Speed Racer a commercial avant-garde film (though fans of the Wachowski brothers may wish to make such claims), unless you still consider Laserium shows of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to be cutting edge. (Lights! Shapes! Colors! Motion! Money!) And there’s nothing terribly adventurous these days about Eisensteinian montage treated as if it were William Burroughs’ “cut up” technique — with digital clips randomly scrambled like pixelated confetti.
Nor is it some kind of subversive commodity, unless the outre strategy of pandering to a low-brow, retro-nostalgic crowd can be considered anything but business as usual in 2008. The faux naivete on display here — right down to the imitation-fruit-flavored FDA-food-dye coloring — is both shamelessly quaint and shamelessly cynical.
DIRECTED BY: ANDY AND LARRY WACHOWSKI
STARRING: EMILE HIRSCH (SPEED), NICHOLAS ELIA (YOUNG SPEED), SUSAN SARANDON (MOM), MELISSA HOLROYD (SPEED’S TEACHER), ARIEL WINTER (YOUNG TRIXIE), SCOTT PORTER (REX), GIAN GANZIANO (EVERYMAN ANNOUNCER), CHRISTINA RICCI (TRIXIE), RAIN (TAEJO) TOGOKHAN
RUNNING TIME: 129 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
For a certain generation of American kids, Speed Racer was our introduction to the lo-fi animated form now known as anime. At the time, we just thought it was cheapo Japanese animation: flat, static, dubbed into badly translated English and barely “animated” at all, given that the frame only seemed to change approximately two times per second and the “moving” backgrounds were made up of about four cyclically repeating drawings instead of the eight or so we were used to seeing in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The faster Speed went, the slower the sequence of backgrounds. Wow.
To us, this show was just filler between after-school reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters. We watched it because it was on, and it was in color.
Now the Wachowski brothers (of the Matrix movies) have spent US$100 million on a mixture of photography and digital animation and called it Speed Racer. They have captured (almost) all the chintziness, inexpressiveness and incoherence of the TV show in two hours and nine minutes, or about two hours too long, give or take. Yet some of us would just rather re-rent Tron (1982), which was not only a more immersive, dimensional and original take on the Commodore 64 video-graphics aesthetic, but also funnier and more exciting.
The live-action components of Speed Racer include Speed himself (Emile Hirsch, consigned to anonymity again after a breakout performance in Into the Wild), who lives with his mom (Susan Sarandon), pops (John Goodman), mischievous little brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), pet chimp Chim-Chim (Kenzie and Willy) — as well as, apparently, his mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) and his gal-pal Trixie (Christina Ricci). They all love Mom’s pancakes.