In Defense of ‘Speed Racer’ (yes, that ‘Speed Racer’)

| Movie Editor
(Courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment)

(Courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment)

It was the summer of 2008. Britney Spears and Coldplay were rocking the airwaves with “Womanizer” and “Viva la Vida,” and everyone I knew had flocked to the multiplexes to watch movies like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Hancock.”

On a muggy Thursday night, I asked my friends if any of them wanted to see “Speed Racer” that weekend. Their response was loud laughter—a lot of it. One of them laughed so hard that Coke came out of his nose.

The movie was directed by the Wachowski brothers, I told them, and I knew that the second and third “Matrixes” sucked, but “V for Vendetta” was more than all right. Plus, the trailer was sweet.

If that argument didn’t work on you, I’m not surprised, because it didn’t work on my friends, either. No takers.

But sometime after dinner on Friday, I found myself online, looking up movie times, and before I knew it, I was in line for the 7 o’clock show. What did I think? Well, if this article’s title hasn’t spelled it out, let me do it: I liked “Speed Racer.” Yes, THAT “Speed Racer.”

I’ll explain why in a second, but first, some disclaimers: The acting sucked, the story sucked and that little boy and his insufferable monkey most definitely sucked. I want to defend “Speed Racer,” but there are some things in this world that are indefensible.

As for the rest of the movie, it didn’t suck. Actually, it rocked. Realize here that the only thing left, now that I’ve cut out the acting, the plot and the two twerps, is the racing. Oh, that sweet racing.

Every bout is different, but they all begin the same: calmly, every engine cooing. Three, two, one…and there’s the flag! But the cars don’t roar off screen as you’d expect; they accelerate smoothly, weaving back and forth like balls in perpetual motion machine.

As the seconds become minutes, the passing backgrounds begin their fade from being clear to being streaks, and this is when the fun begins. I know I’m playing right into the Wachowski brothers’ hands when I say that the races are spectacular and satisfying, but I do not care, because they are undeniable, visual treats. The candy colors meet the neon tracks, making a cohesive space that is beautiful and exhilarating, and breathtaking spectacles leave me in awe, my cheeks flushed.

It’s like being a kid again—try to get past the cliché—and remember when you bought your first Hot Wheels set, the one with the loop-de-loop? Remember how sometimes you would close your eyes just as the car’s front wheels began their ascent of the ring, and for just a split second, you were riding the loop too, feeling the wind in your hair, and your stomach dropping at the peak?

Shoooooooooooo…

That’s what “Speed Racer” was to me. Inside this incredibly flawed movie beats the heart of a gleeful child.

In the days after watching “Speed Racer,” I tried to convince my friends of “Speed Racer”’s greatness. They remembered “The Matrix” sequels and wouldn’t believe me. Without anyone to turn to, I went to Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics thought. “Speed Racer” had a 36 percent Tomatometer Rating. It was understandable; the chief complaint was the special effects were “headache-inducing,” so clearly most critics weren’t raised in the right generation to enjoy this movie.

But when I look back at all the crap we paid for that summer, like Britney Spears, Coldplay, “Indiana Jones” and “Hancock,” I can’t believe that “Speed Racer” wasn’t more celebrated. Maybe “celebrated” isn’t the right word, but nonetheless, it’s hard to swallow that “Speed Racer” was only the 64th highest grossing movie in 2008, one spot above “Prom Night,” and two ticks below “College Road Trip.” It deserved better.

Do yourself a favor, and rent “Speed Racer” the next chance you get. And make sure to keep your eyes open when Speed hits that loop. You won’t want to look away from his shiny, shiny car.

  • http://www.ktracy.com Kevin Tracy

    I have to agree with Oriana… several months later…

    The primary focus of the film is to honor the decades old cartoon. And, although some of their parts seemed inappropriate to modern audiences, the timing and humor was right in the spirit of the original. The same goes with the acting.

    Beyond that, however, I think the real genius of the film lays beyond the film. We’ve all seen movies before, and a few of us have seen race car movies before. Has anybody ever seen anything like THIS though? No… although I suspect we will in the next 10-20 years. Whether it was the excessive use of flashbacks and flashforwards or the “neon diarrhea,” it completely stands alone in its technical aspects as a film.

    This too does credit to the character of Speed Racer and the history of the series.

    The film then goes on to critique the media… which is never a good idea if you’re relying on them to review something. However, the critique is a very honest one and one that needs to be made. If we want to change the world, the media needs to get out of the pockets of special interests and stop worrying about advertisers to focus instead on the truth.

    As a stand alone film, with no understanding of the social or historical context of the story… yes, I can see why people would critique the film. On the other hand, if you seek to experience and understand this film instead of just watch it (it’s difficult for most people), then you’d see that this is probably one of the most brilliant films ever created.

    On the Oscar note, I think the soundtrack and special effects should have been nominated.

  • http://www.401creative.com Curtis

    I think Speed Racer was an excellent movie. Not Oscar bait of course but based on the original material (which is less than stellar) they did a terrific job expanding upon the universe.

    It’s my son’s first favorite movie and I think it’s a shame more people didn’t give it a chance.

    Oh and the visuals were the best of that Summer!

  • Oriana

    “The acting sucked, the story sucked and that little boy and his insufferable monkey most definitely sucked. I want to defend “Speed Racer,” but there are some things in this world that are indefensible”

    I’m glad you liked the movie, but you’ve obviously never watched an episode Speed Racer. The acting was spot-on, the story was true to the anime. Spritle and Chim-chim are an integral part of the show. Without them, as annoying as they can be, it wouldn’t be Speed Racer. Please at least learn about the source material so you’ll see where the movie is coming from.