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Speed Racer
Five Hearts

"Go Speed Racer, Go!"

Written by Steven Walker

I hated the Speed Racer cartoon.  I hated the animation, I hated the way the characters talked, I hated the dumb kid and the stupid monkey.  The theme song was the apex of obnoxious…just bad enough to make you loathe it but just catchy enough to get stuck in your head and never go away.  As a kid if Speed Racer came on…I changed the channel.  If it was the only cartoon on…I read a book. 

If you had told me a live-action Speed Racer movie was destined to become one of my favorite movies of all time, I would have smacked you right in the face.  Yet that is exactly what happened.  I waited until the movie had almost left theaters and went to see it exclusively because Mathew Fox from Lost (Some of the best television ever made.) was playing Racer X, the only character that even slightly peaked my interest from the cartoon. 

I would like to offer the Wachowski Brothers my apologies.  I have massive issues with all three Matrix movies, but I do not deny their artistry and I should have trusted you more.  That the world did not embrace this movie with open arms is one of the great tragedies of modern cinema. 

Speed Racer is a sublime movie experience.  It excels at the art of filmmaking in every measureable way despite not involving a single frame of actual film.  Not only is it a visual orgy that equates to having cotton candy injected straight into your brain, it has the courage to be about sportsmanship and family at a time when both have become sad jokes in a cynical world.

Is Speed Racer a deep meditation on the meaning of life?  Perhaps not.  But then again, does it really get any deeper than Sportsmanship and Family?  Those should be part of the core values of any decent human…and it is so easy to forget that they need to be consciously taught to the next generation. 

The Racer family has such genuine chemistry and emotional truth that it completely overrides the digital glory.   This sense of a real bond and history between the characters makes you care about the races in ways that the visuals never could, no matter how fresh and inventive they are.  Watching Mom Racer go from welding the car frame to making Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches for everyone drives home the point in a way that is touching, funny, and unpretentious.  The movie wears its heart on its sleeve but never feels preachy about it.

And the races…my goddess I have never seen anything like them.  This movie has officially ruined real-life auto racing for me because it can never hope to reach this level of wow.

I hope and pray the box office failure of this movie does not damage the Wachowski’s career.  Their pure love of cinema drips from every frame and there is astonishing craft in even the most perfunctory transitions.  The weaving of visuals, sound and music is nothing less that art.  When Rex Racer tells a young Speed that a car is a living, breathing thing…it feels like poetry.  The finale of the final race is absolutely heart-pounding and it builds up to one of the most intense, orgasmic climaxes I can recall.       

Michael Giacchino is proving himself to be one of the best working composers.  This is one of the best movie scores I’ve heard in a long, long time…and I say this even with it being built around that infectious (as in disease-like) theme song from the cartoon.  If he keeps up the quality of work heard here and in Lost, The Incredibles and Ratatouille…he could very well become one of the greats.     

I have heard people criticize this movie, but any argument against it sounds ludicrous to me.  Too long?  Too digital? Too colorful?  Too fast?  These are minor aesthetic complaints against a film that contains more genuine movie magic than 90% of the films released in any given year.  You can tell the Wachowskis were on fire for this story and the cast pours their souls into it.  Those things should override any nit-picks anyone has. 

This is way I feel about those classic 80s movies that are basically untouchable like Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, Back to the Future,  Robocop or Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Those movies are so entertaining and hold up so well to repeat viewings that trying to critique them is pointless.  They were made by people drunk on the pure love of cinema who were pushing the craft to its limit.

Compare that with the fourth Indiana Jones…which was a painfully unnecessary attempt to recapture old glory without any understanding of why it was glorious in the first place.  It was a stilted exercise in paint-by-numbers filmmaking that proved just how out of touch George Lucas is and even managed to damage Spielberg’s credibility.  There was no passion, no craft, no art, no fun.  I never imagined a day when a new Indiana Jones movie would be shown up so completely by a Speed Racer movie…but it just goes to show how important it is to have passionate artists in the driver’s seat.      

Perhaps nothing can sum up my level of surprise at this film’s quality more than this:  It has a monkey for comic relief…and it works.  I’m pretty sure Hell just froze over.

I know that most people will probably not be as transfixed by Speed Racer as I was, but if you do not have at least a little fun watching this movie then you are a sad, bitter soul who cannot take joy in anything.



Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.