‘Racer’ Clogs Some Engines

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Emile Hirsch plays Speed in the Wachowski brothers’ version of “Speed Racer.”

“Speed Racer” comes across as candy for the senses. The constantly dynamic visuals are a rainbow-sherbet, hyper, pop-art assault on the eyes that is stunning and, at times, almost overwhelming. Unfortunately, much like candy, the rush starts strong yet ultimately leaves the viewer unsatisfied.
There is no denying the fact that the movie is fun to watch. Its style is both retro-kitsch and avant-garde, utilizing the best of modern computer animation to play up to its cartoon roots. The majority of the film is composed with computer-generated backgrounds and only maybe three or four practical sets. It’s exactly the kind of cool-looking film that one would expect from the Wachowski brothers, the team that gave us “The Matrix” films and “V for Vendetta.” The action sequences are exciting, frenetic and sometimes hard to follow. It’s easy for one to have a bit of motion sickness, not because of the race itself, but because of the constant movement of the points of view of the other race observers.
The film’s vague plot is also hard to follow. It’s difficult to see what stake the many villains have in ruining the Racer family other than the evil, capitalist dollar. The heroes and villains are broadly drawn archetypes that lack unique character. Certain subplots, such as the one involving Snake Oiler in the Casa Cristo rally race, seem shoehorned in merely because they appeared in the cartoon. A good amount of footage seems merely stuck into the film for purely humorous or entertainment value, dragging the viewer away from the main action (for example, any of the moments featuring Spritle and Chim Chim or the extended ninja fight sequence).
Some of these moments are welcome distractions, but others come off more like non-sequiturs which do nothing for the movie. These moments pander to the young demographic that the film is aiming toward, but leave the casual viewer scratching his head. At a length of over two hours, the movie could have stood to edit out some of these scenes and also edit down many of its over-long dramatic scenes.
Another confusing element is the constant flashback and flash-forward narrative structure. One flash-forward in particular flashes to a future race, then goes back to the characters talking about the race that has yet to happen, then jumps forward to a moment after the race has finished before the viewers have any chance of re-orienting themselves as to where they are in the film.
Ignoring the clichéd and convoluted plot points, the movie was still fairly fun to watch, especially when not taking itself particularly seriously. The cast worked well together and Roger Allam as Royalton comes off like a great James Bond-esque maniacal villain. Unless you’re a big fan of the series or are under 12 years of age, I’d suggest waiting until the movie comes out at the dollar theater.