Only by the end — when it suddenly turns “intense” and “dramatic” — does it become so bad it’s laughable, and by that point, I just wanted to cry, pounded into submission as I was by its bloated, mind-numbing tediousness. Imagine if the pod race in Star Wars Episode I was as bad as everyone said it was, and took itself twice as seriously, and went on for more than two hours. And then add a wiseass monkey and his sidekick, an obnoxious kid, on top. Stir, and scream. The Wachowski Brothers have taken the genius of their Matrix series, its ability to defy physics and make it work, and turned it into something it would be an insult to cartoons to call cartoonish. Heartless, soulless, lifeless, and empty, this is ostensibly the tale of racing-mad kid Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch [Into the Wild], an otherwise fine actor whom I hoped has learned a lesson about giving in to the Hollywood machine) and his, well… I don’t know, in fact. Speed is a complete nonentity — it would be an improvement if we could call him bland. Apparently he just wants to race his cars but other people — like the bad corporate types who run the racing world and fix all the races — don’t want him to. The fact that this whole Jetsons-style world Speed lives in is mad for racing doesn’t seem to have suggested to anyone on the supposedly creative end of this flick that he might have needed a bit of something to distinguish him from the mob. Or, perhaps his allegedly astonishing racing skills are meant to be a thing: it’s hard to tell when you can’t even see what the CGI cars are doing on the CGI tracks. Please, please, please, someone tell the Wachowskis — and all of Hollywood — that CGI is a storytelling tool, not something tool filmmakers can substitute for story.
you forgot to mention that Christina Applegate is in it too and John Good Man
What follows, is my “apologia” of sorts, for “Speed Racer”.
The greatest challenge of any professional artist, defined here as one who profits from the art they create, is reaching people where they are.
Wildly successful artists, J.K. Rowling, The Beatles, Soulja Boy, all reach a phenomenal number of people where they are, and speak to something deep inside them. A catharsis of sorts occurs, and the collective consciousness experiences an unparalleled union in the wake of a cultural phenomenon which explodes into our midst and erodes boundaries of class, gender, ethnicity, etc.
“Speed Racer” will never be wildly successful because it speaks to a very small segment of the population; the Commodore 64 generation (there’s even a shameless reference to the Commodore 64 in the film).
OK, I’ll be fair, the NES generation might adore it as well, as this is the closest we’ll ever come to witnessing an “F-Zero” film. By the way, if you know what I’m talking about, go watch the film. You’ll probably enjoy it.
If you can play “F-Zero” without vomiting or experiencing seizures, you can probably process the visual information in “Speed Racer” fast enough to understand what’s going on in the action sequences, which is a common complaint I’m seeing among reviewers. I had no problems following the action because:
I’m an 8-bit warrior, and now, during the age of dual-core and quad-core CPUs, I’m a multi-core warrior. Each day I assault my eyes with volumes of brightly colored, frenetic visual information.
And what’s better is, this film is for us; the “basement dwellers”, the hardcore OTAKU and fanatics, the “people under the stairs”. It’s for that creepy guy at work, who’s probably a nice enough guy once you get to know him, but he just wreaks of isolation, stale apartment air, and social failure.
Is it for children? I don’t believe it is. Some kids might find it enjoyable, but “Speed Racer” doesn’t belong to our children. Pokemon belongs to our children alongside Dragon Ball Z, Digimon, and a host of things I couldn’t care less about. “Speed Racer” belongs to me and my dad.
“Speed Racer” is an icon to an age gone by. A time where a character’s defining moments occurred rendered in silly and melodramatic poses drawn by “A-Team” artists amidst a dazzling sunburst of speed lines.
Is “Speed Racer” a bad film? In my opinion, no.
Is it for everyone? Not in the least. In my opinion “Speed Racer” completely fails as a profitable artistic venture. Most people around the world simply won’t get it.
The Wachowski Brothers however did manage to reach me this time. From the overall conflict between corporate greed and the interests of the proletariat, right down to the part where Speed yells, “Get that weak shit off my track!” That’s trash-talking any hardcore gamer can relate to.
I even adore the way they managed to shoot Ms. Ricci from the neck up throughout most of the film. I found it a delightful return to the harmless and primary-colored world of boyish innocence. It’s like watching a two-hour “Hot Wheels” commercial, and I love that.
Does it make up for the horrid debacle that is “The Matrix Revolutions”?
I’ve managed to forgive them at least.
Part of me feels somewhat embarrassed and ashamed at my self-indulgence in writing such a long comment invested with so much of myself, but, I highly doubt many will watch this movie, let alone read this review, let alone take the time to read my several-page comment.
If you have taken the time to read this, thank you.
Also, thanks MJ for sharing your bandwidth.
Sorry, another thought occurred to me.
To me, the struggle between corporate greed and power versus the interests of the independent contractor can even be seen as an allegory for the plight of the true artist struggling to make a living creating what they love in the shadow and a shiny, efficient, oppressive, hackneyed mainstream behemoth.
The F Zero series is one of my favorites; I can even watch the original Speed Racer anime for four or five minutes before I get bored, but I don’t go to the theater to watch two hour long video game cutscenes.
Maybe this movie reminds you of an age gone by, but for many of us, it’s a chilling vision of things to come: A rising obession with spectacle and texture coupled with the abandonment of nuance, likable characters, meaningful dialogue, originality, plot, and for lack of a better word… humanity.
That type of filmmaking speaks to a demographic, but not to a generation. Generations get older and more discriminating. It’s not an issue of being able to following the action – it’s an issue of expecting more from our movies (even movies based on something as vapid as Speed Racer) than nostalgia, eye candy, mind-numbing sadism, cardboard characterization, and pseudo-intellectual babble masquerading as philosophy.
Whatever small amount of genius the Wachowski’s had was purely visual, and it was spent back in the 90’s. In some kinder parallel universe, they’re directing music videos alongside Michael Bay (and Brett Ratner is a parking lot security guard). And yes, in this universe they are all rich and successful, and yes, I am jealous.
That’s what I expected, too. It’s not here.
I’m the Commodore 64 generation. It didn’t speak to me.
Absolutely. Unfortunately, the film appears to have no awareness of this, and does itself a further disservice by itself being a shiny, hackneyed product of a mainstream behemoth.
Be more specific about this “Commodore 64 generation” thing. This movie is for people who belong to the intersection of three sets:
1) The Commodore 64/NES generation.
2) Anime freaks.
3) People who believe the Wachowski Brothers are geniuses.
This is a pretty damn small segment of the population. ;-) I myself am only part of set #1.
There was an obnoxious kid sidekick in Episode I, remember? His name was Anakin.
Terrible doesn’t do this mess justice. It’s like torture.
Wow, that was one of the most incompetent reviews I ever read. As far as critiques of capitalism go, only Jean-Luc Godard is as singularly MINDful of purpose. To call it mindless or souless simply reveals that you, like most American critics, are terrified to be reminded, however much you try to push it out of your consciousness, that your mind and soul are as tied into profit and capital as your country. As with V for Vendetta, if the Wachowski Bros, wanted to make money, they knew damn well how to do it–make it palatable to narrative-fetishists and capitalists like you. Go back to French and Italia cinema of the sixties and seventies for a year, then return to reviewing.
I’ve read and considered other peoples’ points of view and while I haven’t completely reversed my stance, I have a better understanding of, something. I’m not sure what, but I understand it. Better.
I will agree that “Speed Racer” is not an icon to any generation. Such a claim is grandiose. I will agree that it is basically eye candy devoid of any true substance.
At first, I failed see how “Speed Racer” can be considered hackneyed. I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it on film, but on a chance visit to a local “Toys R’ Us” today I saw the bright and shiny new displays seeking to sell my childhood like so much cheap plastic. Not to mention the numerous re-hashed sight-gags, such as John Goodman’s character whirling the ninja over his head.
I am an idealist at heart, and my perspective is often heavily influenced by my feelings. I guess maybe the film evoked a powerful nostalgia for me.
Also, since I work at a cineplex and didn’t have to pay for my screening. Perhaps if I’d paid money, or gone into the screening with any expectations, I would left with little more than a tub of watery lukewarm cola, a sore bum, stiff legs, and the stinging taste of disappointment on my lips.
However, I saw the film (I giggle everytime I call “Speed Racer” a film), for free! And since I expected it to be dreadful. My expectations were exceeding by a significant margin.
It’s a queer sort of conundrum. While I enjoyed “Speed Racer”, I can’t likewise honestly consider it worthy of any cinematic merit.
I suppose it’s like dining out. Some times you’re in the mood for a five star meal prepared by a world class chef. Other times you’re in the mood for “Nachos Bell Grande”.
“Speed Racer” is definitely “Nachos Bell Grande”. It looks appetizing at first with it’s dazzling array of colors. It’s like a party for the senses. Yet each moment is filled “processed cheese”.
Whereas a film such as “The Darjeeling Limited”, is to be savored. It’s a multi-faceted tango for the tastebuds. It’s myriad textures, a joy to experience and ruminate upon. And afterwards, you tell your friends what a wonderful experience you’ve had at “The Darjeeling Limited”, and they all look at you like, “Who on Earth is Wes Anderson?”, and they run out and buy “Nachos Bell Grande.”
Asi es la vida.
Thanks for reading my extremely long posts.
I apologize for any grammatical errors in previous post. I’m on my second “Corona” this evening, and I’m; how should I put this?
“A cheap date”. I hope for the most part, it’s intelligible.
My soapbox is well-worn from excessive use, but here goes.
A note on politeness. Despite posting a lengthy and probably completely unnecessary apology for “Speed Racer, I never criticized MJ’s review or the reviewer.
Having taken a bit more time to look deeply at your comment, it would seem the meaning, the essence, is that you consider “Speed Racer” to be an effective critique of capitalism.
Why not simply say just that? I don’t see the need to attack anyone personally or even anyone’s opinion. We all have a bias of some sort.
I mean a review isn’t fact. It’s someone’s opinion. A review contains facts, but is not in and of itself factual.
That said, I don’t visit this site to hear anyone parrot or echo my points of view. Therein lies no opportunity to grow.
I’m deeply appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about cinema from those I consider to be well-versed (I can’t say well-read) on the matter. The cognoscenti if you will.
Lastly, I don’t understand. What about someone stating their opinion on anything could possibly lack competence?
That’s like watching someone eat a “Reese’s”, and telling them they’re doing it wrong (Yes, this is a koan).
I think Christofani’s point was not that stating one’s opinion can be incompetent, but rather that trying to do criticism without requisite background makes the criticism incompetent. And criticism — when done well — is much more than simply expressing an opinion.
Not that I agree with Christofani (and Maurice is right to call him on his rudeness).
Actually I am of exactly the opposite opinion. For me, it is MJ’s naive (in the best sense) Americanism (again in the best sense) that makes her reviews worthwhile. She writes from a fan perspective, which gives her reviews a very different flavor from those who write from an academic or European viewpoint. But at the same time she brings a quality to her reviews few fans can.
The funniest thing is watching the actors talk about the their characters in interviews. It’s tough for most celebrities to form coherent sentences about interesting characters. But to hear them try and describe these atom-thin stick figures
is downright pitiful.
“Pops Racer is Speed Racer’s dad. And..that’s it.”
I’m not sure if Christofani genuinely believes that this movie is some kind of non-linear surrealist critique of capitalism, or if he’s trolling. Most people seem to think he’s serious, but if he is, then he both somehow still believes in the genius of the Wachowskis when everyone gave up on them in 2003, as well as not paying attention to blockbuster filmmaking these days. “Speed Racer” isn’t a break from the tradition of big-budget filmmaking — it’s a prime example of it. It’s exactly where films have been headed for several years now. You may as well say the same things about Transformers.
Oh, and like being anti-capitalism is such a groundbreaking idea. Yeah, that’s a new one.
I’m not even sure how that first phrase ties into the last, but if you want to criticize the perspective I’m writing from, please at least acquaint yourself with it first. Anyone who can suggest that I believe my “mind and soul [are] tied into profit and capital” has clearly read very little of my writing.
This film looks like sugar poured into your cavities.
Coincidental to its release, my kid was torturing me yesterday with some Anime-inspired ‘toon (Kappa somebody?) in which the stars of an Anime show are ferried around Tokyo by what is obviously a bloated old Speed Racer, his Mach 5 retrofitted into a stretch limo.
I found myself hoping Emile Hirsch, so amazing in Into the Wild, happened to catch that as well, and is calling Sean Penn to see if he’s hiring.
Wow, not even 20 million… what a waste of talent and resources. Every time I think our national tastebuds have been permanently numbed, Americans come back and surprise me. I guess humanity hasn’t gone out of style after all… yet.
Others have noted this, but it’s really odd how the Wachowskis have become champions of soulless, mechanical filmmaking. As MA points out in this review, their rebel protagonists are just as bland and lifeless as the forces that they struggle against.
Why doesn’t someone tell them (and Lucas) to hire a freakin’ writer? Even if only as a consultant? It doesn’t even have to be me – it could be an actual professional. Are they really that tone deaf when it comes to human speech and emotion… and plot… and pacing?
I mean, how do they watch the rushes with a straight face? Hell, how can they read their own screenplays with a straight face? Do they interact with other humans? Do they think this drained, stylized humanity thing is avant-garde? I don’t understand what they’re going for; even the lamest, most commercial cartoons have some warmth and characterization.
Okay, rant over. I’m just thankful that this movie bombed hard. It gives me hope.
Emile Hirsch needs a lesson about giving in to the “The Hollywood machine” -?? Imagine a movie that was like the podrace from The Phantom Menace but throughout its whole duration ?? I want to make one thing perfectly clear to the reviewer, here, with all due respect. *I have yet to read a negative review of this movie (and there are enuff of them out there as there are American Idol fans) that didn’t convince me I needed to see it* YOU HAVE ALL FAILED, CRITICS OF SPEED RACER!!!! I have NEVER in my life seen so many OUTRAGEOUSLY ORIGINAL DESCRIPTIONS of a movie! Your collective intent to disparage this film has backfired: “Imagine a billion hummingbirds exploding through a psychedelic rainbow” and such descriptions actually work toward getting us to WANT to check out this movie ! SOMEONE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TELL ALL THE ‘CRITICS’ OF THIS FUN FILM TO GET A NEW JOB! Y’all should be reviewing RESTAURANTS, not movies for cryin’ out loud.
For my own crazed “rant” of a review about the Conspiracy Against The Wachowskis – – please check out
and have fun with it – – yes its my own personal soapbox but I think people who enjoyed Speed Racer’s NUCLEAR FAMILY VS. CORPORATE FAMILY exercise in poetic subversiveness will get a kick out of it.
And all you grown-up critics need to start paying a little more attention to the movies you are attempting to review. Give credit where credit is due: to the Wachowski Brothers for quadruple-handedly giving four middle fingers to HOLLYWOOD.
Speed Racer is yet another revolutionary (har har) and subversive film dressed as family entertainment: pure genius!
You have no idea how I relish the power I wield over the Wachowskis. I’m drunk on it at this very moment.
“Speed Racer is yet another revolutionary (har har) and subversive film dressed as family entertainment: pure genius!”
I have this sort of unfair but probably accurate stereotype of Wachowskis fanboys; I think they’ve never watched a movie in their lives that doesn’t have CGI in it, but they know that if you namedrop Godard and Kurosawa people think you’re intelligent, just like how we all thought the Wachowskis were intelligent for namedropping Baudrillard and Lewis Carroll.
There are hundreds of films out there which adopt a pro-family/pro-small business stance despite being funded by massive entertainment conglomerates run by men who last saw their family when they needed a convenient photo opportunity for their ‘Family Day’ at the office. Usually, this sort of thing is referred to as hypocrisy. But when the Wachowskis do it, why, it’s sheer subversive genius of a kind no-one has ever attempted before! It’s easily as good as Insert Highbrow Name Here!
I think lots of people are missing the point of this movie. Its about sheer dreamlike imagination. I found it to be tremendous fun. Pure visual storytelling, in uber-color. Don’t watch it if you have a siezure disorder!
MJ, you found this movie to take itself seriously??? Wow. I didn’t find much of that here. This is a story straight out of the wildest boy fantasies, and so yes, the characters have a generic feel to them, all in their respective roles. And the story is timeless and cliche (both of which have some positive qualities), but I didn’t think the story was about that anyway, any more than star wars is.
“Racer X”? “Inspector Detector”? I found it nice that the movie didn’t strike an ironic pose and put these naive ideas down, and act like it was better than “all that”, like so many modern remakes that are so cynical and sarcastic. I enjoyed the naivete and the simplicity and the sheer wonderment of it all. The “dramatic moments” are definitely melodramatic and simple, but they’re at least sincere. Movies like this that cherish the pure wonderment of childhood fantasy are often underappreciated by we post-modern adults who shake our heads and say we know better, about how life is “complicated” and we complain about their lack of “realism” (in the characterological sense).
No, it’s not a great movie, and certainly Iron Man has a broader appeal, but if you take it for what it is, a silly mosaic of eye-candy overkill, its a lot of fun, and I thought quite bold. And for some of us, every once in a while a movie like this comes along that taps into that little kid who knows that the laws of physics are really optional, and that he just wants to win the race to please mom and dad, and be the good guy (who has a really cool car).
I disagree, obviously. I felt absolutely nothing sincere in this movie, except, perhaps, a sincere desire to push use CGI to some bizarre new limit while simultaneously disconnecting it from narrative and character.
Perhaps “sincere” isn’t the right word. Perhaps “Childlike” is more like it–which fits the overall tone for the movie. I liked the fact that they tried to push the envelope here, it gave the movie a phantasmagoric character. After all, does every movie have to be about narrative and character? Can’t there be movies that are just sheer flights of imagination, without much connection to reality? Obviously other movies do this better (the Dark Crystal, say), but they represent a niche that should periodically be filled, don’t you think?
Yes, stories are about narrative and character. Otherwise, they’re not stories.
Oh, please: do you really think *Speed Racer* is trying to be anything at all like those movies? For one, Reggio plainly is eschewing character and narrative: *Speed Racer* is not. It’s merely doing character and narrative extremely poorly.
My use of the word “stories” was deliberate. *Speed Racer* is not trying NOT to be a story.
Two points being overlooked in my opinion: (1) The original Speed Racer series blew. (2) The Wachoski Brothers may have some interesting concepts, but is anyone really impressed with their body of work? The Matrix sequels increased the probability they might be one-hit wonders behind the camera.
It should be no surprise this film tanked.
I thought I was having trouble following the action scenes because the copy I was watching wasn’t transcoded at a high enough frame rate.
I’m glad I didn’t waste any money on it.
I would have been asking for my money back, plus some for pain and suffering.
Before you all get righteous on me, I didn’t download/burn/copy it. I saw it at a friend’s place.
At least we had beer, so the night wasn’t a total waste.
There were many times where we had to hit rewind several times going “what just happened there?” or flat out “WTF??”, only to still never make heads or tails out of it wondering how speed racer got through whatever it was that just happened. I feel sorry for anyone in the theater with no remote!
So your friend downloaded it?
“I didn’t rob the bank, officer! My friend robbed the bank! I was just spending the money.”
“You have no idea how I relish the power I wield over the Wachowskis. I’m drunk on it at this very moment.”
And you with your insane militant feminist wiles, you’re even using your power to turn one of them into a woman!
Have you no sense of decency, madam? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
Imagine if the pod race in Star Wars Episode I was as bad as everyone said it was…
It isn’t hard to do…
ed by MaryAnn (May 24, 2008 11:30 AM)
Before you all get righteous on me, I didn’t download/burn/copy it. I saw it at a friend’s place.
So your friend downloaded it?
“I didn’t rob the bank, officer! My friend robbed the bank! I was just spending the money.”
Nice analogy, BUT, what if you ate a steak that someone bought with stolen money…..and never knew it until you were about to complain about the taste of the meat?
And you better take a better look at the operating system, browser and email programs you run before you judge me.
And if they are paid by your corperate sponsors, don’t be so sure of their legality.
Until I run a verification check on your license numbers, I suggest you keep quiet, lest the Microsoft$ come down upon your company like acid rain.
and who is to say my “friend” is not a legitimate screener with allowable guests? You judge prematurely….pre-judge….seems like the root of prejudice to me. Think about what you say before you judge or act.
So you didn’t know that watching a new theatrical film at your friend’s home might not possibly be a problem?
Oh, I thought about it, all right. And are you suggesting that your friend had a legitimate home copy of this movie that nevertheless made you believe that it had not been transcoded at the right rate?
Wow, more idiot than advertised at half the price!!
what I was saying was that the action scenes were so hard to follow, that it gave that appearance.
In an attempt to explain why it was so horrible, I had many thoughs, one of which was possible a transcoding error which CAN happen even in professional environments.
Turns out of course, that it was just a badly done movie.
It amuses me how anyone who has read very little considers it ‘highbrow name-dropping’ to engage in the default tools of meaningful scholarship: citations, references, comparisons.
No, it’s nothing knew to talk anticapitalist. It is something new to elegantly BE anticapitalist. Which this film is, in its rigorous refusal to do what it knew it could have done to earn money, and in its subversion of the abstract space of multinational capitalism, via its rejection of the careful fragmentation of lived,social space into sectors and systems: genres, styles, narrative schemes, targeted audiences, etc. This film resists all efforts to safely sell it, canonize it, or set up an escapist night around it.
Now I challenge the snarky blog owner and fans: try to live outside these spaces created for you (public vs. private; high art vs. mass art, etc.) Your training if you wish to stick to films: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini, and the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the most subversive film of all time to the critical-creative tendency to safely bundle films into appropriate artificial spaces.
So basically, Anthony Cristofani, this film is elegantly anticapitalist because it didn’t earn back its budget, because it got horrible reviews, and because you don’t think it neatly fits into a genre? You’re not serious… are you?
By that criteria, an awful lot of filmmakers have been making elegantly anticapitalist movies for quite a while. If the Star Wars prequels made it on to the short list of primers, you might as well throw in the Tyler Perry oeuvre and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
No, I told you why in the last entry. Read it more carefully. It has to do with creation of sectors for art, politics, economics, etc, to comply with the formal unity necessitated by capital. Movies like Speed Racer don’t make a lot of money and get horrible reviews not because, like Pluto Nash, they are horrible, but because the production and reception of art in this country works within these spaces. When a film like Speed Racer comes out but does not come quietly into one of these spaces of reception and interpretation, it is not really even seen by those going to see it. They think they are seeing something else. They bring a specific set of perceptive and critical tools that won’t help them with this work. They might as well be watching a rock concert with a microscope and the periodic table…In any case, someone above said ‘a move is nothing without character and narrative’. This is a bastardization of the original and still most powerful use of moving images as an art form. Mimetic storytelling is just making novels for people to lazy to read.
As for details from the film, that’s serious and lengthy and endeavor to take up now.
I bet Warner Bros. had no idea they were anticapitalist.
Let me start my diatribe with “Genius of their Matrix series”? Let’s face it only the first Matrix movie was genius: the other two were merely capitalising on the first. Your pod race comment was also completely unmerited, for starters the criticism of it was that it was superfluous to the story and was put in to make a video game. Should Speed Racer have been a sedate affair? I’m pretty certain you’re the type of person who would have got confused watching “Days of Thunder”.
… “Heartless, soulless, lifeless, and empty,”
Of course the fact that the story revolves around a family who care about each other is completely heartless, the fact that Speed had integrity and Rex did what he did (faked his death) for the greater good is soulless, lifeless in the fact the “death” of Rex nearly destroyed the family and empty in the the positive family orientated message it conveys.
From your review it sounds like you wanted “The Dark Knight” Lets make it gritty and realistic shall we – Pops committing suicide, Speed going on hard drugs whilst beating his younger brother and his mum becomes a prostitute to make ends meet? Try reading the manga or watching the cartoon first: the movie entirely captures the spirit and encapsulates the story in movie length. If you want a soulless film try watching Transformers 2.
What distinguishes Speed Racer from the Mob: apart from being the most skillful driver, the one driver seemingly refusing to contract for a large company and having some innocence and integrity, the youngest driver on the grid and a distinctive white vehicle. Let me ask you what distinguishes Racing Legends from the rest of the pack? Perhaps something to do with being the most skillful and winning – something pretty much mentioned of Speed throughout the film.
As for Speed being a non-entity; does that make F1 drivers like Lewis Hamilton a non-entity too? Trouble is they exist (in reality as well *shock* *horror*) and 95% of what that guy says is to do with cars and racing – he lives, dreams and breathes it; people like that exist funnily enough. Perhaps they should have had Speed do some watercolour paintings and helping disabled children abandoned by their wine swilling, chain smoking, painkiller popping wrong side of 35 NY mothers.