Monday, May 12, 2008

SPEED RACER: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Runtime: 206 min.
Rating: **
Genre: Action, Sport

Just in case you’re interested, here I toss another incident to vindicate my long standing belief that everything happens for a reason. Kind of. The show was at 2230, and I was stuck up with work till a quarter of an hour before. And I had no money on me either. Result? Extra brute force applied on the accelerator of my bovine car. A left here and a right there. Hurling a couple of curses on stray wanderers. Getting some on the way for wandering off commonly appreciated lane discipline. Reaching there needlessly early. The kind of drive I guess that geared me just about perfectly for this film. As in sinking into my seat watching the screen explode in total chaos.
Speed Racer is one hundred percent visuals. When someone coined ‘eye-candy’, and I guess it was a child rather than an adult, he meant something along these lines. Every possible shade of every possible color from the near 2 million or so the Asian Paints catalog has to offer, bright or glum doesn’t make a difference, is crammed up into every inch of space in those two odd hours. Extra saturated at that. It worries me a bit that $100 million have been spent to religiously replicate the sleaziness of an afternoon 60s Japanese filler I have never seen. I wonder what commercial sense it makes to spend outrageously to render something that was produced for a sum less that one hundredth. And as for artistic endeavor, there wasn’t any I believe with those anime shows of yore in the first place. That makes the technical carbon-copy exercise near vacant and futile and terribly short-sighted. As in relentlessly pursuing to create something bad. I might never understand, and neither did I understand the camp of Grindhouse. You might strive to pay your homage, but strive to better it. Not consciously make an equally bad production. Jackson didn’t re-make a 1931 film complete with a man in an ape-suit, he gave King Kong his own spin. Frank Miller gave The 300 Spartans through his own graphic novel, not by merely replicating them. That is why I say vacant, and if anybody claims that The Wachowski brothers have art on their mind, I think it would be a case of giving them too much undeserving credit.
In fact, The Wachowski brothers are so consumed in rendering the anime part as it is, that a requirement as pertinent as lending coherence to the proceedings is all but forgotten. Needless it may be, yet there’s something dazzling about it all. You might have to brace yourself for conditioning in the initial hour wherein your brain might go for a spin and eyeballs may very well pop out of exhaustion. Probably, you haven’t seen anything like this, I haven’t, and I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing. And neither is it all bad. Merely in the bad hands for once. It is a spectacular showcase of vanity, and I suspect even the filmmakers themselves didn’t find themselves in command either. They seem too confused, too distracted and it shows in the initial part where the film moves nowhere and the actors seem as lifeless as the surroundings around.
Let us get done with the story part here, which by the way doesn’t have much going its way. It is about Speed Racer (Hirsch) who has racing flowing through his veins. As a child the only thing that brings any shred of sense to him is fast speeding cars. Good for him, because the family business is racing run by his pop, Pops (Goodman). As he grows up a terrible tragedy befalls the family with the death of the elder brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter), a tragedy that all but destroys their love for racing. Obviously it doesn’t, and Speed Racer, the brilliant new talent on the block, has to live with the ghost of the family’s past and live up to his ideals in this capitalistic world as he races his Mach5.
The first half if anything is terrible, and for a movie based on the adrenaline of speed, it is damp squib. Completely hollow, it might catch you more often that not stifling a yawn. I would advise you not to suppress it, and neither should you suppress the need to catch a breath of fresh air. Dialogues are crammed into whatever minutes that are available from that bludgeoning visual pomp. Most of them seem to have been written on the spot, in a terrible hurry, and the only purpose they fulfill is inform what’s happening around. Of course, nothing much is. I wonder if these lifeless sequences which offered little room for inserting special effects to The Wachowski brothers were directed by a second unit. The opening racing sequence is so awfully made that you might have trouble spotting the car in all its delirium. Color, effects, close-ups, dialogues, cars, a monkey are vomited on your face. At regular intervals they throw at you ‘comical’ situations most of them involving Speed’s younger brother and his partner, a chimp, just so you’re aware the film isn’t taking itself too seriously. Not humor though, the film has an dreadful sense of it. Coupled with the wink-an-eye style, it harms the first hour no end. One thing I would have appreciated is honesty, and there isn’t any on offer.
I have always maintained that The Wachowski brothers have never been good with their effects, they tend to overdo them. The Matrix was just about perfect but The Matrix Reloaded, for all its money, was garish. Especially the sequence where Neo fights a thousand Agent Smith’s where you could clearly notice the below par effects, as in computer games, whenever Neo flew in the air. They have called their film motorized kung-fu, but there’s a serious lack of choreography to any of the races. A serious lack of method.
It is the second hour, that saves the film from being a total disaster. The brothers seem to come into their own, the film grows a bit coherent, more sequences are lent to the family, and a cap is put on the effects. As a result it grows a lot warmer. The climactic couple of races are done quite well, though they are overtly campy, the whole film is and that is the point. There’s energy to the proceedings and a sense of direction and you’ll find yourself involved. As I said the conditioning lasts for an hour.
There’s nothing special with the actors. It isn’t remotely the actors’ fault either since this is wholly a technical film, and they are just set pieces. Just about as important as the colors around and the jumping cars. I would agree when you say the film is a terrible waste of an opportunity. And neither will it give Iron Man any serious threat. But The Wachowski brothers have given us a glimpse what could be done. Someday, there will be a film where someone like Terry Gilliam might explore this option to the wonders of their own imagination. And I’ll be waiting for it.

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