Speed Racer (USA/Australia/Germany, 2008)

Directed by: Andy and Larry Wachowski. In preparation for the much recommended Cloud Atlas, I thought I’d finally get around to checking this out (having seen, of course, the entire Matrix trilogy when they first came out). I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Wachowskis or anything, with the obvious caveat that The Matrix was a pretty important movie moment for my generation. But I can honestly say that I really enjoyed watching Speed Racer, gimmicks and all. For that matter, I guess it’s fair to call the whole movie one big gimmick. It’s based on a cartoon—okay. It’s got the Wachowskis’ signature brand of socialism, which is only a couple of notches more subtle than Godard—also okay. But then it’s also got this extremely heightened visual fetishism underscoring every shot of the film, from the heavy, heavy, heavy use of CGI for nearly everything but the actors, to the deliberately comic-book-panel editing style. It’s a very visceral, visual film experience, which I only imagine would have been twice as good in theaters. And as fascinating as it all is to watch, you have to wonder, what does a story about a humble family car company and their battles against an unscrupulous capitalist have to do with all of this digital effects pornography? Probably not much, but it makes for a hell of a spectacle. And if spectacle is what Hollywood wants these days—cue  Transformers, Avatar, and the endless parade of superheroes—then at least this is a very big flashy film with a pretty big heart, espousing some pretty solid virtues of humility and family and respect, etc. Of course, it’s all filtered through this lens of quaint, childish, cartoon overacting, but in the world of the film, it works. And watching perennial bad guy Roger Allam (V for Vendetta, The Wind That Shakes The Barley) really letting loose is pretty satisfying to watch. I don’t think this film did that well in the theaters, and we’ll probably not see a sequel, but it’s too bad–this is one gawdy Hollywood CGI fest that I’d actually like to see a franchise out of. Oh well.

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