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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Speed Racer (review)

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.

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watch at home

MPAA: rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb

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