Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer (2008)

I have mixed feelings about this one. The intellectual, avant-garde, postmodern side of me loves the idea of an utterly mind-blowing 4-D freakout made of equal parts Picasso, Super Mario Kart, and Pixie Stix, a liberating and over-the-top visual experience.

The problem that I have with the movie is that, too often, the Wachowski Brothers weigh down the effervescence of their film with too much narrative (135 minutes is just too long) and obnoxious sloganeering about the evils of capitalism - or rather, capitalists in the form of Roger Allam's sneering bully Royalton. I have no problem with a movie that encourages kids to follow their dreams and families to support one another against the harsh outside world, but I really think it takes a lighter touch than the Wachowskis show here to work effectively. For me, the movie's worst element is that of the bad guy, Royalton. The Wachowskis can't just let him be the cackling villain in the corner, they demand that we fear and loathe him, and the heavyhandedness and one-sidedness rubs me the wrong way. The monumental, messianic transcendence that Speed reaches in the movie's final race is a little bit much for me, too, especially when it's coupled by huge, adoring crowds applauding our hero. I usually don't care for Anthony Lane's 'criticism' in the New Yorker, but when he calls the movie's climax 'pop fascism' I have to admit he has a nugget of a point - it feels forced, heavy, manipulative, when it should feel breezy and cathartic.

So basically, my problem with this candy-coated live-action cartoon is that it takes itself too seriously. Who woulda thunk?

Now I don't want to leave the impression that I disliked the movie, merely that I think the Wachowskis are better at visuals than they are at character and narrative, and that they seem to be a little too full of Joseph Campbell pretensions (which basically spoiled the Matrix sequels for me). But the races, even when they're inconsequential, are fun, the visuals are spectacular, Michael Giacchino's score is excellent, and the comic relief from Speed's little brother Spritle (Paulie Litt, giving the movie's best performance) and the family chimp Chim-Chim is perfect. I wish the movie had a little bit more of their anarchy amidst all the rest of the intricate designs.

6/10

5 comments:

K. Bowen said...

"Pancakes are love!"

Oh, come now, you didn't even like that line, Jeff?

Craig Kennedy said...

I can't really argue with anything you've said here even though I liked the movie a lot more.

The heavyhandedness didn't feel too heavy to me, though I agree the movie could've been shorter.

It was much more fun than Iron Man and at least it offered something new.

john m said...

Wow, you're the first person I've read who actually liked Sprittle and Chim-Chim, or whatever they're called.

The second Matrix movie was such a turd, I definitely couldn't risk coughing up money for this one. There are too many other options in New York right now.

Besides, if I want to feel like a child, I'll watch a movie from my childhood. Naked. Eating Nilla wafers.

Jeff McMahon said...

Re: the movie's comedy, I liked it just fine, I just wish there was more of it.

Craig, I agree that this movie is a lot more visually inventive and innovative, Jon Favreau isn't a particularly dynamic guy with the camera. But to his credit, he has a better touch with actors.

John, what can I say? Every movie can be improved by the addition of a chimp, and like I said, I think Paulie Litt gives the movie's best performance, as he doesn't have the obstacle of having to act against a greenscreen.

I do want to stand up for at least The Matrix Reloaded, which is highly entertaining, or at least its action sequences are. It has the misfortune of being inextricably tied to The Matrix Revolutions, which couples old-fashioned sci-fi clunkiness with new-fangled pretentiousness.

patrick said...

The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer... the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard