Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Speed Racer

Review by David Tredler
There was a time when the Wachowski Brothers seemed to be at the top of the world. Like James Cameron in his time, they were filmmakers with a sharp and fresh idea of what movies could become. After The Matrix’s phenomenal and unexpected international success, the brothers were the new kings of Hollywood. They had achieved a globalization of cinema, mixing American sense of blockbusters with Asian styles of action.

They blew their Royal status away by heading straight forward into a Matrix saga that disappointed almost everyone. Having not directed a single feature since The Matrix Revolutions in 2003 (although some suspected they did more than what they were credited for on V For Vendetta...), most people were already sharpening the knives at the sight of their colourful transposition of the classic Japanese cartoon Speed Racer on the big screen.

Saying “Of course, the film is a failure” would be a harsh thing to do. Yet the feeling of failure comes to mind when watching Speed Racer. The thought is almost unavoidable. But the feeling was so expected that not only the flaws, but also the qualities of the picture appear clearly. Point of fact, Speed Racer is not a failure: it is a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding from the filmmakers, who made a film for the wrong audience. They must have thought everybody wanted to see a family-friendly Speed Racer, because it was a cartoon, because some have grown up with it, who knows why. But the truth is, the film should have been made for a much older audience, one that is quick tires of the monkey humour and the dominant pathos encapsulating the film.

Speed Racer has some seriously great audacity going for it. Sometimes you get the feeling that the Wachowskis may address themselves to adults, most notably when their narrative style gets bold (the first racing sequence, going back and forth, blending past and present so smoothly). But it seems to be just an illusion as the kiddie-friendly tone is always more present than the mystery, the darkness, and the melancholy that you sometimes see flashes of. The excitement of the races, the colourful universe that transports us in a second, the edges of some characters are constantly defused by the “We want to please the whole family” overall tone.  This makes the film look like a waste, crossed by moments of genius and jubilation.

Despite the waste though, there is a pleasure taken in watching the film, between its flaws, that will make it a much more re-watchable summer blockbuster than some of its counterparts, like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Cristal Skull and its total lack of dynamic. Speed Racer failed to be a spectacular fun ride, but it does have its moments of spectacular and of fun rides. And Racer X still is a mighty cool character.

3 / 5 stars

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