Friday, 18 December 2009


SPEED RACER: Andy & Lana Wachowski, USA, 2008

Live-action adaptation of Japanese TV anime series "Mahha GoGoGo" (1967).

The anti-corporate corruption message is both a little dense for such a virtual whimsy and is inevitably simplistic and hollow. This is, however, totally in keeping with its Japanese cartoon origins and it is no more or less hollow and simplistic than Romero’s odd anti-YouTube tirade "Diary of the Dead".

Of course, the anti-corporation plot is all to boost the virtues of genuine talent and incorruptibility of the common man and little heroes. The Wachowskis provide the film with no real personable charm, but a full-on cartoonish and family-friendly sensibility pardons all manner of traits that would otherwise be insufferable: a comedy monkey; every scene subject to special effects within every pixel (as it were); broad characterisations where everyone suddenly becomes, if not martial arts experts, then definitely unlikely master brawlers, etc. Again, all this is in keeping with the source material and family-fun adventure. And the dialogue and myth-making, although slight, are better than anything in the Matrix sequels, and the aesthetic is as consummate and otherworldly as anything in "Sin City" or "Watchmen". Why shouldn’t a family/kid’s film look this amazing? No need for darkness all the time, although there is some downbeat substance to the vision of companies squashing individuals with duplicity and thuggery.

The main point: these are the brightest yellows, pinks, reds… the most vibrant colours you are ever likely to see on film. You may feel your retina being ever-so-slightly burnt away by the vitality and florescence of the spectrum radiating from the screen. It may put you off candy for a while. But it is totally immersive and often gorgeous and dazzling during fly-by vistas. Occasionally, there are moments of inspiration - for example, the opening visit to Speed’s childhood where his question paper runs into blahblahblah and he amuses himself by daydreaming himself into a race, one rendered in hand-drawn animation. Elsewhere, there is plenty of cross-cutting in chronology to keep the pacing spikey, sometimes so speedy that you almost lose your footing on the narrative and (again, typical of anime) verging on the incomprehensible. Also, the Wachowskis do know how to shoot an action scene, and the races are often and thrilling enough to stop things from dragging. Speed’s brilliance is never in doubt, so there is little suspense, but the whole enterprise is set upon those tried and tested memes that have carried from the Japanese to the American dream: fulfilling your own brilliance and overcoming all odds and villainy. Both successfully.

Pretty much mauled by critics upon release, time will surely salvage "Speed Racer" as a guilty visual pleasure and an above-average family film. The converse of, say, "The Dark Knight", but that’s not automatically a bad thing. You might have to wear shades to watch it, but if you are in the mood for light entertainment and visual wonder, it is worth indulging.

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