Speed Racer (2008)
Speed Racer is a movie that could not have been very good to begin with, but it’s certainly a very curious one. It’s several degrees more artificial than other CGI-dominated films such as 300 or Sin City, and therein lies its whole appeal – along with the fact that this is an adaptation of a silly Japanese cartoon from the sixties, so we don’t have to be worried about the nasty artistic-philosophical pretentiousness of the Wachowski brothers. But who cared about Speed Racer, the cartoon, in the first place? What made Joel Silver and the Wachowskis think that kids today would be in any way interested or have any affinity with the wacky 60s excesses so faithfully recreated and amplified in the movie?
Speed’s little brother, Spritle, and his chimp, Chim Chim, are the heart and brain of the movie. This is a movie suited to their sensibilities – there is a sequence in which the two watch cartoons and pretend to fight like their heroes that is supposed to have a degree of fantasy, but as the film progresses we realize that there is no such thing – there is no divide between Spritle’s kiddie fantasies and the actual world of Speed Racer. This is a film for Spritle and the chimp – who else would think in any way cool a pilot throwing a beehive into another during a race? There are a number of excessive elements that seem to be geared towards another kind of audience, one that’s not even real, that is either Spritle or the real audience of Speed Racer the cartoon, but that cannot exist today. This is evident when Spritle and Chim Chim break the fourth wall and intervene during the outcome of the last shot of the movie – the one when Speed and Trixie kiss – alerting the audience that what we’re going to see is somehow disgusting, asserting that in some way it is their 10-year old sensibility that is shaping the whole movie.
When it’s moving – during the race or fight sequences – Speed Racer does exactly what it sets out to do, and it’s fun in its unique, excessive and hyperkinectic visuals, especially when it acknowledges its camp and comedic nature. When it’s not, which is most of the time, it doesn’t quite work and the visuals seem forced and excruciating. We don’t have to thank the Wachowskis for this, but George Lucas, whose second Star Wars trilogy is the biggest influence here: pretty much everything is done in CGI, the dialogue is painful and puerile, and the whole thing is just an extension of the pod-racing sequences in Episode I, even making the same mistakes Lucas did. It’s an interesting exercise in pastiche even if it doesn’t have an audience, and proves that there is an undeniable appeal to the late 60s excesses that seem relevant today (I don’t know why, don’t ask me) – even if Speed Racer tries too hard sometimes. A more fruitful experiment would be, in my mind, a 60s campy version of James Bond.