May 10, 2008

Speed Racer (2008): A+

Speed Racer may very well give your brain diabetes, and I state that as compliment. Digital to the extreme, this adaptation of the popular 70's cartoon is sure to give detractors of the Star Wars prequels a whole new ball game to play at, as it doesn't so much utilize its glossy, computerized sheen as it fully embraces it - like a child with a new set of toys, exploring the seemingly endless possibilities at hand. The aesthetic worth of Speed Racer will only be truly ascertainable in retrospect, but for now it can be appreciated (if for nothing else) as a bold experiment in delirious pop art, an orgasm of exploding rainbows that defies all physical and visual conventions in its no-holds-barred extravagance. One example: when the less fortunate of the film's racing automobiles crash and explode, the plumes of flame and dust could be any one of the colors of the rainbow, as if Andy Warhol was back from the dead, psyched as ever. By comparison, 300 may as well have been directed by Lars Von Trier.

Plots and themes aside, the Wachowski Brothers have always been readily identifiable as a distinctly auteuristic presence. From the delectable sexuality of Bound through the flawed ambition of The Matrix sequels, theirs is a style keyed into what makes us human (even as it resides within special effects-driven spectacles and familiar genre trappings), evoking telling subtleties with their impeccable, almost Kubrickian framing schemes, positioning men and women, leaders and masses, the rulers and the ruled with and against each other, utilizing space in ways traditionally overlooking in supposed popcorn fare. Speed Racer may very well find them shunning more deliberately meaningful filmmaking in favor of youthful nostalgia; having never seen the original Speed Racer and caring too little to do so, I'm in no position to comment on whether or not this is just another commercial ploy to remind middle-aged ticket buyers of the Good Old Days. Nevertheless, such is a gimmick I think beneath these boys, who - for all of their shortcomings and bad decisions - have never given out to profitability when doing such would impede on the essence of their vision.

Speed Racer is, at its heart, a family film, even if it isn't inappropriate to recommend watching it on LSD. I can only wonder about the future bootlegs being sold at comic book conventions, pairing the film up with various Pink Floyd songs that somehow match up with its bonkers imagery. The storyline remains one modestly grounded in simple themes and virtues: of David versus Goliath, of remaining true to oneself, of being there for friends at the end of the day. Performers notwithstanding, you can expect the usual Wachowski-directed performances: overly mannered and deliberate but also awkward, flawed, and revealing (the casting of Keanu Reeves as Neo remains one of the most unlikely and brilliant marriages of talent - or, as some would say, lack thereof - and content, in recent cinema), deliberately shaped to fit within the peg holes carved out amidst the landscape of flashing sights and sounds.

Such technical stimuli require nothing short of a leap of faith in this case; hold on, hang tight, and try to not look outside the ride lest the contrasting speeds give you motion sickness. Speed Racer is batshit crazy, constantly refocusing, zooming, panning, cutting, swiping, spinning, and bullet-timing, the equivalent of letting 1,000 hummingbirds loose in a McDonald's ball pit with sugar water in constant supply. The viewer is perpetually in the position of being overwhelmed, and though that's a deliberate effect, there were times (in between the moments in which I attempted to recalibrate my senses) that I wished they'd held back the extravagant editing only just, so as to appreciate the spectacle a little less from the purported perspective the racers (truly, they take the catchphrase "Go, Speed Racer, go!" to the ultimate extreme) and more so from the cheering spectators. No matter how fast their gadget spins, however, it stays decidedly on track, not unlike its titular character, whipping around hairpin turns designed precisely for drivers who know how to drive while hydroplaning. In a just world, the editing work in Speed Racer would be championed instead of the idiot chaos that is The Bourne Ultimatum.

A review generally involves a discussion of the story and drama in the film, but you know the story here. You always have. That's the point, and Speed Racer delights in its archetypal strands of fathers and sons, sons and mothers, younger and older brothers, corrupt bad guys and sidekicks who always step in at the right moment. Christina Ricci, Emile Hirsch, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon all nail this storybook genre, although Paulie Litt is particularly special as Speed Racer's younger brother Spritle, quite possibly the most curmudgeony ten-year-old ever put on a movie screen (in the film's penultimate moment of what-the-fuck, candy-colored bliss, he and his pet chimpanzee Chim Chim race around an upscale car factory, jamming out to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird"). If the film's style is any limitation in the end, it's a deliberate one, as Speed Racer aspires not to reinvent, but to reinvigorate.

No comments:

Post a Comment