“We come to bury Speed Racer, not to praise him” might as well have been imprinted on the foreheads of critics as they marched into their screenings of the new Wachowski flick. Sure enough, page after page of critical vitriol has been spewed all over this film, creating the widespread perception that Speed Racer is the “must avoid” movie of the summer.
So, it was with little-to-no enthusiasm that the Super Summer Movie Fun Club – Go! took their seats last weekend, prepared to endure the headache-inducing groan-fest that we’ve all been warned about.
When the lights came up two hours later, we all blankly stared at each other for a moment and, almost in unison, began singing “I liked it!”
We all liked it. Every one of us. In fact, as we walked out of the theater, we all scratched our heads and wondered, “where’s this terrible movie all the critics have been bitching about?”
Speed Racer was fun. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time. Like it or hate it, the worst thing you can say about the unique style of the film is it’s “too colorful.” There was no forced over-use of hand held camera, no fast cutting for the sake of it nor any other “modern” technique that is usually the culprit in me wanting to rip the bulb out of the projector.
It was just colorful.
The action was fast and furious and the quieter moments of storytelling and character development were traditional and reserved – as it should be. In fact, the most impressive “bold, new cinematic style” that has been hyped about this movie is the use of long takes, where slow wipes and a montage of background images replace the music-video style editing that has been addling our brains for a decade.
The story was surprisingly complex for a “kid’s movie” and, while two dimensional, you like the good guys and hate the bad guys. The dialog is snappy and smart and the moments of campy, over the top humor are always with a wink to the audience. Like any good “cartoon,” there are layers of comedy and innuendo aimed at adults and, most importantly, the movie is consistent. It always sticks to its own rules, follows its own logic and never strays from the path; this made it easy to immerse yourself in the world of Speed Racer.
The problem with most summer action movies is that they try to make you believe the real world is in trouble and these are real people trying to save it – and then someone jumps off an F16, runs across an exploding bridge and uses a Palm Pilot to hack into the Treasury Department. All these leaps from reality to fantasy are what make you roll your eyes and say “this is so fucking stupid.”
Not so with Speed Racer – it’s always a fantasy and always a fun one. The worst thing I can say about the movie is it’s a little too long and by the time we get to the last action sequence, we’ve seen it all so many times it just loses its impact.
Kind of like last summer’s $100 million dollar action-fest based on a cartoon: Transformers. But guess what? Critics liked Transformers, and that movie was a huge, stinking pile of shit! Here’s what USA Today had to say about Transformers last year:
“Yes, it’s loud, explosive and silly, but it also perfectly embodies the concept of a summer blockbuster with its simple good-guys-vs.-bad-guys plot, cheeky humor and flawless special effects. Transformers is easily the best movie based on an adaptation of a cartoon TV series.”
And what did the same critic have to say about Speed Racer?
“For a movie about velocity, the excitement factor is low and the races feel like a drag. Perhaps that has a lot to do with its length: 2 hours and 10 minutes, which is at least a half-hour too long for a movie based on a cartoon. Or maybe it’s the predictable story about a guy who goes up against crooked corporate sponsors.”
So let me get this straight, a simple plot with loud and silly action is a good thing for Transformers, but the nail in the coffin for Speed Racer? And while I agree that 2 hours and 10 minutes is too long for a movie based on a cartoon, your beloved Transformers was 2 hours and twenty minutes long!
Bite me, USA Today.
Here’s how the Hollywood Reporter felt about Speed Racer:
“In this aggressively rudimentary emotional drama designed — literally — around impossible racing car action… the basic laws of gravity and aerodynamics aren’t simply denied; they are totally repealed. The possible miscalculation here are the wearying number of races that all look alike.”
Let’s see… Transformers: Rudimentary emotional drama? Check. Disregard for laws of gravity and aerodynamics? Check. A wearying number of look-alike action sequences? Check! So, on paper, Transformers is every bit as suck-ass as Speed Racer. What did the same critic have to say about Transformers?
“The movie is noisy fun, with characters and plot lines kept simple and flashes of comedy that hit home more often than not. The best thing in the script is how a teen plot line gets tied into the fate of the world.”
Ok let’s try this again: Speed Racer: Noisy fun? Check. Simple characters and plot lines? Yup. Comedy that succeeds more than it fails? Totally. A story about a teen who ends up changing the world? Check, check and check!
Sit on it and spin, Hollywood Reporter!
So what gives? Why all the hate for Speed? What made the critics all decide to gang up on our innocent little boy racer and throw him under a truck? Two things: hype and the Wachowskis.
Sure, lots of movies are hyped to death every summer, but I guarantee you’re not going to see the critics face off with Batman or Indiana Jones… the difference is Speed Racer was hyped as “an entirely new art form” and “a movie unlike anything you’ve seen before.” Well fuck, that’s like standing naked in front of your girlfriend with your legs spread and telling her she looks fat. You might as well ask to be kicked in the balls. The last thing you want to do before showing a god damn critic anything is tell him he’s about to see an ingenious masterpiece. Can you blame them for rolling up their sleeves and saying, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you an ingenious masterpiece” and then telling the world your movie is about as clever as a hat on a toilet.
The other problem is our ever-reclusive Wachowski brothers. By laying low and refusing to talk about the movie or grant interviews, they give off an air of pompous superiority, as if to say “our masterpiece will speak for itself and we can’t be bothered to answer your pathetic press questions about it.” Good going, boys, why stop with shooting yourselves in the foot when you can just hack the damn thing off?
All of these things were like waving a giant red flag in front of the critics; you told them you were brilliant and then denied them access – result? Backlash reviews.
But Darth Mojo readers are above this! Look past the hype, ignore the reviews, unlearn what you have learned and get your ass in a Speed Racer seat this weekend; the movie deserves to be seen in a theater and based on the box office performance, it may run out of gas much too soon.
* * * * * *
Super Summer Movie Fun Club, GO! members say…
Witness the power of lowered expectations! I never watched much SPEED RACER as a kid, so I went into the movie with few preconceptions and a chorus of negative reviews echoing in my brain. The movie tells a simple story with a surprising amount of narrative sophistication. The cast is appealing and the visuals are endlessly inventive (although the racing sequences bear a lot of similarity to a recent series of Mattel Hot Wheels direct-to-video movies called ACCELERACERS). If only it were about 20 minutes shorter…
It’s so discouraging that the critics can’t (or won’t) appreciate the creativity and sense of wonder present in every frame of the Wachowski’s adaptation of SPEED RACER. Yes, it looks garish and takes a bit of getting used to. Yes, it runs a half hour too long. And yes, the film shifts awkwardly between batshit-crazy, anime action and traditional family drama. But when the end result is this much fun, who cares? Congratulations critics, you’ve managed to torpedo an exciting and original family film that doesn’t condescend to it’s audience or resort to cynicism. Keep on hatin’, bitches!!