Friday, May 09, 2008

Remember when you were a kid and you drank too much cheap cherry cola too fast? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you SPEED RACER

Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a huplane manifoldFrom the makers of THE MATRIX comes a new feature length adaptation of the classic Japanese TV kids cartoon SPEED RACER. It's a technically brilliant movie that beautifully renders the futuristic-kitsch of the speed racer world. The costumes and sets are all acid-bright colours, '50s americana and the shooting style is high-octane in every sense. Camera angles swoop and glide around the racing track and the editing is out-standing. Talking heads rotate as background shots cut in and out - kids' daydreams become gonzo animated - and even the narrative cuts in and out of the past and present with hold-on-to-your-hats speed.

Take, for example, the bravura opening sequence. Over the course of a car race, we are shown the back story of the characters. Rex Racer, is a champion racing driver, idolised by is kid brother Speed. But Rex decides to leave Pops Racer and sign with a corporate sponsor. Soon, he's using dirty tricks, bringing shame on the family. Finally, he's killed in a motor accident. Years later, his kid brother, Speed Racer is also a champion racer, idolised by his kid brother Sprittle, and on the verge of signing with a big corporate sponsor, Royalton Industries. The film picks up at the point where a spurned Royalton is trying to squeeze the Racers out of the industry. Speed teams up with the enigmatic(!) Rx to bring down the corrupt cartel that controls racing, by driving in the hazardous cross-country race, The Crucible.

So far so peachy. The movie is clearly technically amazing. I also loved the self-conscious home-spun wisdom and earnestness of the Little Guy versus The Man message. And there are some very funny moments, usually involving Paulie Litt. He steals the show as Spritle, getting into scrapes, hopped up on sugar, with his pet chimp.

But the movie has a problem. It has no heart. For all the day-glo visual brilliance, and the earnest dead-pan performances from all the actors, the CGI overwhelms emotion. I found it desperately hard to get into the film - to sympathise with Speed's dilemma - to be excited about the true identity of Rx Racer. And if you don't care, all the CGI doesn't mean a damn.

SPEED RACER is on release in the US, UK, the Netherlands, Argentina, Germany, Greece, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain and Venezuala. It opens later in May in Hungary, Estonia, Turkey, Egypt and Russia. SPEED RACER opens in June in Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Poland, Australia, Belgium, France, Israel and Norway. It opens in Japan on July 5th.

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