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Customer Review

68 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!, May 9, 2008
"When I watch you do some of the things you do," says Susan Sarandon in the Wachowski Brothers' "Speed Racer," "you take my breath away." This line pretty much sums up how I felt about the movie. "Speed Racer" is an absolute visual masterpiece, retooling the look of anime into an exciting, hyper-realized world of vibrant creativity. Every shot is like a cartoon brought to life, the neutral shades of the real world replaced with bold shades of red, blue, green, yellow, purple, and orange. It doesn't present us with a vision of the future so much as it presents an alternate reality, where racing tracks and cars defy gravity. Here's a film you have to see more than once for the imagery alone, because chances are you'll miss more than a few details along the way--every square inch of the screen is packed with visual delights almost all throughout. It isn't often you come across a movie this stunning, this lively, and this fun.

Based on the 1960s cartoon series created by Tatsuo Yoshida, "Speed Racer" puts it foot on the gas as soon as the Warner Bros. logo appears, interweaving the title character's back story with a heart-pounding race. Even as a young boy, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has known nothing other than automobile racing; now as a professional racer himself, Speed is haunted by the death of his big brother, Rex (Scott Porter), a racing superstar who crashed eight years ago on a cross-country rally. The public believed that corporate sponsorship changed Rex into a money-grubbing backstabber, forcing him to turn his back on racing altogether. Naturally, Speed and his family are now completely against sponsorships of any kind, especially his father, appropriately named Pops (John Goodman). For this family, it's about racing, not money.

Here enters Royalton (Roger Allam), a slick corporate mogul who tempts Speed with the fame and fortune associated with being sponsored. In essence, Royalton wants Speed to sell his soul, much like Rex sold his. Despite an impressive city suite and the top-of-the-line cars manufactured in a highly efficient factory, Speed refuses to make a deal. Royalton angrily lets him in on a little secret: Car races are always fixed because, contrary to what Speed was raised to believe, making money is what racing is all about. With the help of his girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), and a mysterious masked man known only as Racer X (Matthew Fox), Speed infiltrates a number of races in an attempt to destroy Royalton's reputation as well as the need for corporate sponsorship. This won't be so easy, though; numerous factions are in cahoots with one another, all of which connect with Royalton to some degree.

If this sounds absolutely ridiculous, keep in mind that plot is not what "Speed Racer" depends on. This movie thrives on imaginative digital effects and spectacular racing sequences, all of which rely on lightening-quick edits and creative camera tricks for maximum entertainment. In this completely fantasy world, racecourses look like oversized Hot Wheels tracks, with sharp inclined curves, completely vertical drops, gaps to jump, and a variety of loops. Speed and his beloved car--the Mach 5--navigate these roller coaster-like twists and turns with ease and accuracy, as one would expect from a cartoon adaptation. Cityscapes are colossal, brightly colored, and sterile, looking much like the Worlds of Tomorrow depicted in science fiction pulp magazines. The sunny sky is a deep, rich shade of light blue, and it's accented with puffball clouds that are pure white. On DVD, one could easily pause a frame of this film and stare at it for hours while absorbing every single detail.

Just as impressive are the side characters, all of which add a little something to the story. Speed's youngest brother, Spritle (Paulie Litt), is a loveable scamp who often stows away in the trunk of the Mach 5. Always at his side is Chim Chim, his beloved pet chimp; together, they act as the film's comedy relief. Speed's mother (Susan Sarandon) is a caring woman who can weld car parts after making a mean stack of pancakes. The family mechanic, Sparky (Kick Gurry), absolutely shines during a wonderfully cartoonish martial arts sequence, one that makes you laugh just as much as it makes you cheer.

In a nutshell, "Speed Racer" has set a new standard for digital filmmaking, a standard previously set by brilliant films such as "Sin City" and "300." It's sure to snag Oscar nominations for visual effects, costumes, and cinematography, as well it should; watching this movie is an exhilarating experience, a perfect mixture of hard-driving action, childish whimsy, and visual creativity. The abundant imagery acts as a counterpart to Michael Giacchino's score, a cheerful opus that adapts the original theme song "Go Speed Racer Go." But all this wouldn't have worked without the actors, all of which were perfectly cast. Hirsch makes the title character both determined and vulnerable. Ricci gives Trixie a wide-eyed innocence that I absolutely loved. Allam is deliciously evil as Royalton, a sniveling, conniving villain you just love to hate. Sarandon and Goodman are convincingly down-to-earth as the parents of a racecar driver. And I have to give a lot of credit to young Paulie Litt, who not only delivered some of the film's best lines, but also played his part in the spirit of good fun. "Speed Racer" was all in good fun, definitely one of the year's most entertaining films.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 11, 2008 5:43:04 PM PDT
This was a really good review, I just have one question: Does the movie really deserve five stars? I get what your saying about how the story isn't the point and that the visuals make this fun. It just seems that five stars would mainly apply to something that was well rounded in every aspect and not just one.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2008 6:34:46 PM PDT
Thank you for your comment. I gave "Speed Racer" five stars because, for me, the film was well-rounded in terms of its genre. The story is certainly ridiculous, but it's also completely appropriate for this kind of film. The same can be said for the performances, which stay true to the cartoon origins by being a little goofy--not over the top, but definitely exaggerated. Yes, the visuals play the largest part in making this film entertaining, but they don't play the only part. In short, I had so much fun watching this movie that five stars just seemed right.

Posted on May 15, 2008 1:50:19 AM PDT
R. Kyle says:
Okay--so I need to go, huh? I just wonder if I should take my Valium. Sad, I know. LOL!

In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2008 3:02:51 PM PDT
Yes, you definitely need to go. You should probably leave the Valium at home, though--I don't think you'll need it for this film. Then again, that's just me.

Posted on May 27, 2008 7:52:02 PM PDT
Your review is the first positive one I've been made aware of. It reminds me in a way of Disney's cutting edge movie 'Tron' from 1980. I now want to see this for your illuminating review.

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2008 8:23:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 27, 2008 8:23:48 PM PDT
Many have been divided over this film, especially professional critics. But I can't deny my feelings--this movie is just plain fun, and I loved every second of it.

Funny you should mention "Tron," because, surprisingly, I don't think it's a very good film. The special effects were cutting edge, no question, but the story and dialogue were awful, even by escapist science fiction/fantasy standards. Yes, the story of "Speed Racer" is silly, but not so silly that you can't suspend disbelief. It's just right.

Posted on Jun 10, 2008 7:16:31 AM PDT
Impressive review! Considering the beating this film has taken, I'm surprised to hear such a postive one! I am a sucker for great visuals, so I will check this out!

Thanks!
;-b

Posted on Sep 16, 2008 10:08:04 PM PDT
I am I says:
I concur with everything you said, for me it hit the nail right square on the head and was just what I needed.

Posted on Sep 27, 2008 7:49:11 PM PDT
Thank you for your positive review, it was detailed and took the words right out of my mouth. I completely agree with you, that this is definitely a movie for those who grew up waiting for school to end so that they could see Go Speed Racer cartoons. I loved this movie and was surprised that it received mostly negative comments, everyone and everything about it is simply beautiful, different, and definitely in it's own little section of must have movie collection. My toddlers loved it not knowing a thing about Speed Racer, we hadn't received the cartoons yet before the movie was sent to us, but they were up there screaming Go Speed Racer out loud with me! Loved it! Again, thank you for your detailed positive review, now I don't feel like such a nerd for liking it ;)

Posted on Mar 3, 2009 8:12:53 AM PST
Derek says:
I liked most of this thoughtful review which touched upon some unique points, but I'm dissapointed the second & third paragraphs give too much of the plot away (what plot there is), as that's where the movie makes a crucial turning point from happy-happy to dishonest and dangerous. As for the movie, I give it 5 Stars all the way.
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