Speed Racer (2008)
Speed has no limits.
There are a lot of people that know of Speed Racer - most are probably familiar with the old school anime/cartoon with hyper-fast monologs and nigh seizure inducing two-frame backgrounds. Some of us may have enjoyed it, and some of us may not. There's even a set of people out there that will punch you for singing the theme song (just trust me on that one, okay?). To little fanfare, someone decided they had to turn this into a live-action movie with some heavy CG. Will it race it's way into your heart, or will your attention speed on by?
You might expect a story here to be about racing - simple and to the point. Maybe you expect it to be more of a dramatic affair like some older racing movies out there. Well, I'm here to tell you that you will get quite a bit of both. We start at a pre-race locker room, where our main character is getting ready to head out and burn some rubber. Before he can do this however, we get thrust into some flashbacks to emphasis something to us: Speed (yes, that's his name) absolutely loves racing. What does he love more than racing? Nothing. He adores his brother - a racer - and loves his family - who makes cars - and can't wait to do it himself. We also get introduced to his romance interest and how they both became sweethearts - it's quick and to the point, and doesn't contest itself with unnecessary drama later on.
Throughout his first race, we also get introduced to a traumatic part of his past in which his brother dies in a car crash on a cross-country race. There's even a touching moment in which he slows down to just shy his brother's record to not take it. His amazing racing skills don't go unnoticed by all the big handlers out there, and the family soon starts getting all sorts of calls to sign him on, one of which is less of a call and more of a on-the-spot arrival via jet. He flies Speed and family out to his fancy place of work where he show's off all the benefits of joining the "winning team." Speed understandably needs some time to think this offer over, as it's all a bit much to take in, but after some thought turns down the offer. This is met with some rather harsh words from the would be owner elaborating how it's all about money and everything is rigged, and how Speed is making a huge mistake that he'll come to regret. Turns out, most the things he said actually do come to happen, but Speed doesn't get to mope for long.
We introduce our side-story that ties into the main story - a mysterious racer known as Racer X who fights to try and expose the shady handed dealings of the big corporations running the racing league. Speed ends up getting roped into helping X under the premise that by helping the ties between criminal elements and the racing corporations - something that will rock racing to it's core. During this time, Speed notices that X seems to have a great chemistry with him, and starts to suspect that he might in fact be his long-dead brother. After winning the race, however, it turns out the man they were helping had no intentions of giving up the files to prove connections between the criminals after all, and Speed has a little crisis of faith. Will Speed stay a racer? Will X be his brother? Will he make it to the Grand Prix and can he win it if he even does?
Standing at the forefront of this movie are the visuals. At times things are so colorful it looks as though a rainbow puked on the screen after overloading on pixie sticks. Even when scenes are dark such as in tunnels or the finale, they still manage to inject color into them in the forms of light highlights and neon signs. The CG in most places is pretty noticeably CG, but the movie wears it like a badge of honor and never makes you think that it was aimed at being anything better than what it is - a jumble of plastic-y yet slick looking matchbox cars and green screen work intended to feel like it's your imagination at work. It can be a bit discombobulating at times, particularly when speed-effects are added in, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear of people getting motion sick during some of the racing scenes.
The story ends up playing out surprisingly impressive, more so than I ever thought it would. I was by no means a hardcore Speed Racer watcher in my younger years, but I knew enough about it to remember the flashy two-frames fast-monolog parts, the mysterious X, cool gadgets and bright colors - so for all I know the plot here could be very akin to or super deviant from the original source. What we are given however, is actually incredibly sound and doesn't wast time watering most things down - even the romance is to the point, with a simple "childhood sweethearts" moment that never comes up with added drama or unnecessary challenges to further complicate it's plot in any way. That being said, the story still manages to pull of some (at least for me) rather well-played twists as it runs its course.
Audio is (thankfully) a little less rapid-fire than what I remember of the olden Speed Racer, and it's all balanced quite well to boot. Actors generally do some pretty good delivery of lines, although without a doubt a lot of it can come off as more hammy than a pig. This ham actually just fits the feel of the movie and also helps serve to lighten some of the moments up. That being said, there are some genuine heart-felt moments in there with some character growth out of not just Speed, but even some of his family members as well - and the flow of delivery on it all is surprisingly well handled so that you never grow tired of the actual on-screen footage.
When it comes down to it, I don't think I've been more surprised by what a movie delivered in comparison to my expectations than with Speed Racer. I thought I was going to go into something that was mostly just a giant joke, with plenty of flashy colors and a simple and stupid plot. What I ended up getting was a fun and quirky movie with some touching serious moments and a whole lot of fast-paced cars that would belong in a little kids imagination as they play with their Hot Wheels. I had fun with this movie - more fun than I feel I had the right to necessarily have - and on that premise I think I could go as far as to say it's worth a rent at the least. That being said, for the sensitive there's a few swears that sneak in, as well as a middle finger and some over-the-top cartoonish violence. Go Speed Racer, Go indeed.