Sometimes bringing your favorite childhood cartoons back from their animated graves can be pure magic. This is not one of those cases.
The 2008 Speed Racer remake may have shown great promise with its star-studded cast and near cultish following, but the product itself fell way short of the finish line.
Here, played (for some reason) by Emile Hirsch, Speed Racer, is set up as a young driver who’s willing to do anything for the sport he loves. And despite myriad subplots—Is his brother really dead? Will this destroy the family? Does winning matter? Will he ever kiss his girlfriend?—racing is truly the star of this film.
Supposedly Speed Racer broke major ground in terms of its visual fidelity and effects. But coming at it retroactively, and with an artistic eye that’s never quite appreciated anime, the feature is more annoying than it is impressive.
When the film’s ‘50s fashion, futuristic technology and pop art color palette come together you get an image that’s as lively as it is epileptically abrasive. Now, were the CGI less apparent or at least less liberally applied, this might all seem very cool.
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the biggest cameo the film can boast belongs to the green screen.
Speed Racer’s cast still managed to scrape together enough chemistry to keep this film rolling, but you can’t help but wish they’d either committed more to the anime aesthetic or waited until effects technology could’ve made the futuristic elements more believable.
Had it taken a Scott Pilgrim vs. The World approach and incorporated more captioning, transitions and an artistic angle, rather than the literal depiction of impossible technologies, it might’ve been more visually successful.
In terms of content, Speed Racer is technically aimed at families and younger audiences, but its mature cast and rather dark themes leave the film failing to fully satisfy either audience.
There’s too much low comedy for adults, a little too much flirtation for children and far too many flashbacks for my taste. But would I call it the worst movie I’ve ever seen? No, but it’s certainly not the most captivating way to spend your night.
Considering the shoes it had to fill, it’s hard to say whether or not this movie was truly successful. But when set back-to-back with the legacy of the original cartoon, this film is at best forgettable.
It’s hard to imagine that any film boasting the former Wednesday Adams (Christina Ricci) and star of Into the Wild (Hirsch) could warrant such a sentence, but for some reason Speed Racer just lacks that fifth element of intrigue.
That being said, I would still suggest that any fan of the franchise at least give this flick a glance, if not for any other reason than to see their attempts to translate the vintage classic into a more modern setting.
But if that’s not enough to entice you, then just remember that you’ll have a prime opportunity to watch a handkerchief-donning Emile Hirsch crying over the art of driving. Which is itself a true masterpiece.