I grew up in Pinecrest Estates back in the days when satellite dishes were the size of wading pools and cost more than a new kidney. We didn’t have cable (I was raised believing television was only good for two things, Hockey, and nothing) so I lived on VHS movies and taped episodes of Married with Children. So I have never seen a single episode of Speed Racer and know absolutely nothing about it except that it kind of seems like Astro Boy, only not as gay.
Having said that, the big-screen Speed Racer , directed by the Wachowski brothers ( The Matrix) and starring Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci, opens on Friday at the Village 8. And while I have no nostalgia for the subject, the camera-trick/special effects geek in me is intrigued. Forget popcorn movies, this flick is pure cotton candy.
The story, which jumps, jars and rolls around like a car wreck, centres on Speed Racer, a young driver with a sweet Mach 5 racecar and a chip on his shoulder after his older brother Rex, one of the greatest racers ever, died on the track (or did he?). From his family-run race team, Speed drives his way to the top, continuously battling giant mega-corporation Royalton Industries who do crooked things like fix races and are hoping to bring Speed into their fold. Toss in an emoting girlfriend, ‘50s style optimistic parents and a kid brother with a monkey and you’ve got the makings of a good-hearted family flick.
The story and dialogue aren’t really all that great, unfortunately, and the 135 minute running time is insane (expect little kids roaming the theatre aisles for the last 40 minutes) but the effects are unmatched. The Wachowskis and their team have scoured the earth– from Morocco to Death Valley — and shot all the coolest landscapes, trees, buildings, whatever popped. Then they collaged it all together in a world of super-crayola colours where everything is in focus all the time. Watch for nifty moving camera, cut-less transitions and 360 degree rotating flashback sequences. It truly is a cartoon come to life, something like the Jetsons hopped up on amphetamines, ecstasy, and Monster energy drink (Speed Raver?),
But is this enough to make a good movie? Not really. It’s obviously for kids (the monkey serves no purpose at all) and while the independent vs. corporate theme is admirable, the plot doesn’t flow and even the wild race sequences (there are four of them) suffer because we never truly understand the rules of the universe the story is unfolding in. Crash after epic crash we see the drivers walk away unharmed, so where is the danger and risk? Speed Racer is all about the visuals and those are unique and spectacular, but as a movie with a story to tell it lags, drags, and limps to a seemingly unreachable finish line.
The other flick opening this week, What happens in Vegas, stars Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher as opposites-attract types who wake up married, win three million bucks, and spend the rest of the film bickering over things like leaving the toilet seat down. It’s routine, predictable and should have been released on Valentines Day (the studios are releasing it now to pull some of the female audience in a month full of male-driven testosterone flicks). This is a renter if I’ve ever seen one but if your girlfriend insists on this film (mine is way too awesome to drag me to this crud) I’d suggest another attempt at the popcorn trick (something I learned back in the Pinecrest days watching a home-dubbed VHS copy of Diner, proving, once again, that film is far more educational than TV).