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A gaggle of SPEED RACER reader reviews rush in!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I've already told you guys how I feel about the flick and now we're starting to get word back from those seeing advance screenings of the movie, even one or two from the AICN Austin screening. The word is pretty split. Some like it, some don't. We've got a good balance of both views below! Enjoy, but be warned... there are some spoilers below!

Hi Harry, Moriarty, Quint, I managed to see Speed Racer last Wednesday and only now wrote up a review for it. Seeing as you, Quint, already have your review for the film up on the site, it would seem that a review from a reader would be useless. Maybe it is. But, I wrote it up just the same and am still sending it to you guys just in case. Take Care, and if you guys do read this, thanks for doing so. Here it is: I’ll be honest with you, I hate it when I come across a review here on AICN for a movie that hasn’t come out yet and the reviewer says something like “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but (insert movie title here) sucks….” Well, I saw Speed Racer a couple of days ago at a free press screening for Telemundo employees held here in Miami at the South Beach Regal Theater, and guess what? No, it doesn’t suck. But, unfortunately, I still didn’t love it. I am absolutely convinced that the finished film projected in front of me was exactly what the Wachowski brothers hoped to make. And while I don’t think it was bad, unfortunately for me, I simply didn’t respond to it, at least not as much as I had hoped to or would have liked to. Why didn’t I respond to it? The answer is simple. Basically, I hated how it looked. That’s a pedestrian reason to be sure, but when a movie is based so much around how it looks, it’s kind of hard to get on board when you hate the visuals. Now hate is a strong word, as there were several scenes where I was able to just sit back and enjoy the effects: The chase through the ice tunnels in the mountains for example and the “kung-fu” scene before it in the falling snow stand out in my memory, but for the most part the look of the film left me flat. Ironic, since it’s the sort of flatness of the visuals that I objected to the most. What’s also ironic is that I know that the directors chose the flat visual approach on purpose. I think that they were going for the “cheap”, for lack of a better word, look of the original anime. But that choice just left me scratching my head. I mean, why spend over a hundred million dollars just to make the movie look cheap? Of course, how much money they spent on the visuals isn’t really important, it’s just that whether they are expensive or cheap the special effects should draw you in and stimulate your imagination. My imagination, for the most part, simply wasn’t stimulated. Everything was so busy, yet plain at the same time. There simply was no depth to the visuals. Let me put it this way, I love movies like “Blade Runner” or “Dark City” partly because I feel like I could step into those universes, but in the case of “Speed” all I saw was a bunch of people standing in front of a blue screen. I never felt like I could step into that universe, which is a shame because I would love to see a movie that would truly bring the ideas contained in this film to life. Ideally, the race tracks in “Speed Racer” are insane and fun, but the effects simply didn’t bring them to life for me. Like I said, I’m sure it was done on purpose, but why? Also, the racing scenes themselves are little bit too chaotic and hard to follow. Granted, this isn’t a normal racing film, and we are witness to some far out racetracks that are so crazy that chaos is to be expected. But the shots are too tight, for the most part, and the editing too quick. The real problem, though, is when you mix the tight shots and the quick editing together with all the colorful, eye-gouging CG, it all becomes a pixilated mess in no time. Though I must admit, there are still some moments where you can figure out what’s going on and they can be quite fun. The first half of the rally sequence in the desert has some great “fights” between the cars. I especially liked it when Speed (or was it Racer X….I’m telling you, the visual effects overload played with my memory a bit) boosted into the air and punched one of the villains, who had booster over him and was upside down, in the face. Things like that happen often enough in the movie and they helped pull me out of my general “I hate how this looks” malaise. The last moments of the finale also reach a kind of gonzo, hyper-reality that recalls, albeit on a much shorter time scale, the travelling sequence from the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. All this crazy CG comes flying at you as Michael Giacchino’s score crescendos, while earlier scenes and dialogue from the movie intercut with the crazy images; all of which come together to create this epic final moment to the race that is, for once, breathtaking. So, yeah, for all of my rambling about the visuals and how I hated them, I simply cannot bring myself to hate the movie itself. And I think that if you do seriously hate this movie, then you might be a bit of a churl. The movie has its flaws, but hate-able it is not. The fact is, “Speed Racer” does have a pretty good story and the way that it balances character, story and the action, i.e. the racing scenes, is pretty admirable. I liked how the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film intercuts all of the exposition and character introductions with the first of many over the top races. And even though it does go on a little long, it is a good way to catch the audience up and introduce the world of the movie at the same time. Also, like I said earlier, the plot is not bad. It’s simple, sure, but it does touch on some relevant issues. Sure, there’s the typical, but always welcome, family should stick together storyline, but more surprisingly the film spends a bit of time describing and condemning giant business conglomerates and their practices, something I never would have expected from a Summer “spectacle” based on “Speed Racer”. But here it is, and it’s done quite effectively. When Speed finally socks it to the villain (to quote Vern, “spoiler”), or the embodiment of the villains in the film, it makes you wish the same could happen in the real world. Apart from the plot, the film was well cast, though I’m sure we all knew that going in already, and while the acting may not be spectacular, everybody plays their respective roles well, though Roger Allam’s one note villain did get tiring after a few scenes. Still, he’s despicable and totally boo-able, exactly what the part called for. It’s also nice to see that none of the actors seemed to get lost in the Green Screen process of film making as so many fine actors did in the Star Wars prequels. One actor who stood out to me, though, was Matthew Fox. Admittedly, I am a “Lost” fan and so of course I got a kick out of seeing him in the movie, but apart from all that I was happily surprised by his performance. He’s cool and menacing sounding even while wearing that ridiculous Racer X costume (I love the outfit, but come on, it is ridiculous). If Christian Bale ever decides to step down from playing Batman (and I hope that is still a long ways away), I think Fox could fill his shoes quite nicely. Oh and on a totally un-related note, I remember reading another review here on AICN for “Speed Racer” from someone who saw it early and he complained about the language in the movie. To be honest, I think there’s very little that’s really inappropriate for kids in this movie. I think Pops Racer says “Turd” at one point (GASP!) and near the end they even go so far as to bleep out Richard Roundtree’s “shit’s” (Supposedly the bleeps occur because he is announcing the race…..and yes, I know, the last part of that last sentence simply doesn’t sound right). Honestly, the most “offensive” thing I can think of is when Spritle quickly flicks the villain off, and, to be honest, as far as I remember, that scene got the biggest laughs from the kids in the audience. Strangely, the audience that I saw the film with was extremely passive, even the children. They only went crazy three times; during the aforementioned flick-off and during the two comical fight scenes towards the middle of the film. The adults seemed super-passive throughout the whole thing. Whether this bodes ill for the finished product or I was simply in a screening with a bunch of “too cool” for the movie Telemundo employees, I don’t know. All I can tell you is this: Overall, yes, I was kind of disappointed. I don’t know if it’s just me, or what, but I could not give myself over to the film completely. Maybe, hopefully, the visuals will look better on DVD, especially a High Def. DVD, but we’ll have to wait and see before this can be confirmed. Either way, there are still some good to great moments throughout the film and if you can get over the problems that I could not, I’m pretty sure you’ll at least have a pretty good time. Sorry, for how long this is, but hey, reading never hurt anybody, right? Unless, of course you’re reading a really long and boring review. Oops, sorry about that. If you guys use this, just call me PK Money.

Our next review is from "Toolhead" and is a more positive look...

Hey Harry, Long time reader, first time writer. I saw Speed racer last night. I have to first say that I was never fan of the cartoon, not that I didn’t like it, I just never really watched it. So I went into this without any fanboy gleam in my eye. That said, Speed Racer was one visceral, hyper-real piece of cinema. The brightly colored, super saturated neon world the Wachowski’s created is very impressive. It was in no way built to feel like the real world and it works. The people are real enough though. This is a very family centric film. Family and doing what you love for those you love was a central theme. Using your small, independent company and family to fight the big, bad corporate giants. I really enjoyed John Goodman (Pops) and the small parts that Susan Sarandon Mom) brought to the film. The film takes itself seriously when it has to but the comic relief of Spritle and Chim-Chim are welcome and not overused. A small aside, there are some fairly violent moments in this movie but just about on par with what is on television nowadays. With the exception of one scene, these scenes are all very cartoon like. Parents may not want to bring their youngest to this one, although I saw several kids younger than 10 in the audience, including one that did not lift his face from his cell phone for the entire film. Anyways, Christina Ricci looks better than ever as Trixie. Emile Hirsch does well in the roll of Speed. He looks and feels younger than the other drivers and most of the movie is about him finding his way as a racer and as a man. Which brings me to the main point of this film. The racing. It was all about the racing. Speed racer is looking for a reason to race the entire film and when all is said and done, it is all about the racing for him. And the same is true for the movie itself. There is a story here about corporate takeovers and races being fixed but it really is just an aside to the fact that the racing in this world is just freaking awesome. And there is a LOT of racing in this film, which was fine by me. I never got tired of seeing these cars defy physics in every way. The settings become more and more exotic as the races become more dangerous and important. I especially liked the look of the race in the ice caverns during the Casa race. There are some breathing taking effects in that sequence. As much action and movement as the Wachowski’s could throw at you, it never became boring. At the end of the very last race, when you think that they could not possibly kick it up another notch, they hit the 2001: A Speed Race Odyssey button and blow your mind. I got goosebumps during that final sequence. When all was said and done, Speed Racer was an exhilarating, visual thrill ride. The mediocre story never derails the film and they nail the most important aspect of this movie, and the thing that will bring the people to see it, the racing. If you use this, call me Toolhead.

Next up is "Speed Rally" who is a big fan of the original cartoon and is more critical of the adaptation... I come from a much different point of view, personally, but it's clear he's not grinding any axes here... and you're not the only one who thought a little about Roger Rabbit during some of the sequences, Rally. That tugged at me, too.

Hey Harry, Just got back from a preview showing of "Speed Racer." An editor at the alt weekly where I work found out about it, and got me a press pass this afternoon -- I flew out the door and raced 300 miles to Charlotte (round trip) to see the 7:30 show, but it had to be done, gas prices be damned. Let's get this out of the way up front: I am a LIFE-long fan of the original. I collected models of the Mach 5 back when you could only get them from Japan. I've dressed up as Speed Racer for Halloween three times -- twice as an adult -- AND got my wife to go as Trixie one year. (And yes, I wore my red socks to the showing tonight). In fact, to give you an idea of how long I've been waiting for this -- and how long Hollywood has been trying to get a film version made -- the first professional article I wrote for a national magazine was on the "upcoming" Speed Racer movie. This was in 1988. So yeah, a bit of a fan with a lot on the line. I really wanted to love this movie, the way I got blown away by "Iron Man" last week, and while I did enjoy myself -- and laughed my ass off a couple of times -- I found the picture as a whole a little frustrating. The Wachowski Brothers got SO much right in translating the cheesy cult hit to the big screen, yet, in between every brilliant thing they nailed they kept grinding the gears just enough to break the spell for me. The cast was almost perfect (with a couple exceptions, below), and I loved the look of the film. Although the marketers have been touting this as something 'no one has seen before', I was immediately reminded of 1990's "Dick Tracy" and, of all things, "Roger Rabbit." It had that sort of saturated, manic feel to it. (In the review I just finished for my paper I describe "Speed Racer" as "Ham and cheese served up on fever-dream Wonder Bread, with a tall glass of Kool-Aid" ) The biggest surprise for me was that Spridle and Chim-chim -- always the most annoying part of the cartoon -- were practically the best part of the movie. Perhaps the Wachowskis should have heeded the old show biz advice about never working with children and animals, because these two nearly stole the show (then again, they will probably save it too, as the audience I was with really only reacted to the their antics, while giving the special effects a somewhat jaded reception.) As for the dialog, well ... at one point as I'm sitting there, thinking how awful and ham-handed the exposition is, when it occurs to me -- HEY it's JUST LIKE THE CARTOON! Whoo-hoo! (Plus, how can you hate a script that uses the word "crumbum"?) As for the races, while the 'Hot Wheel' sets were OK, the insane cross-country rally that was the centerpiece of the movie was great -- as was the "homage" to the Mammoth Car. THAT was pure Speed Racer. So, what didn't work? On the drive back I had a lot of time to mull over things and determined that, for a frantic movie about racing, it dragged quite a bit. Overall, the movie could have easily been 15 minutes shorter and much tighter. After a brilliant opening, and a great first 20 minutes, the film almost slams to a stop when Royalton gives Speed a lesson on -- economics. Now, I realize this was central to the, umm, plot, but the way it was handled and the way it went on an on... to paraphrase Douglas Adams, it was not unlike accidentally shifting from 4th into 1st gear and watching your engine leap out of your hood in an ugly mass. (And really, just WHAT IS IT with the Wachowski Brothers and their need to put a big long scene in EVERY movie where someone sits and gives a big lecture on 'how the world really is'?? Anyway, I digress...) At the same time it could have been shorter, I wanted to see MORE of the races, more of the cars, and more of some of the other 'colorful' drivers. (Man I SO wanted to see more of those crazy-ass Viking racers and their cars!) The action flashed by so fast -- too fast, really, too often -- you sometimes had no idea what just happened. The last race in particular was such a blur it had very little visual or dramatic impact. Honestly, for a movie with so much literal exposition, there were times when you just couldn't tell what the hell was going on or who all those characters were who appeared for 2 seconds, nodded and walked off screen. As for those characters, the biggest disappointment was Inspector Detector. I'll overlook the utter lack of even a remotely pointy beard for the moment, but Benno Fürmann seemed like he accidentally wandered into the wrong movie and it felt *completely* out of place among the neon and ninjas. As for Snake Oiler, his schtick got thin really fast and he was little more than a cartoon character (oh wait, never mind ...) Finally, a couple of other people have mentioned this, but I too was really surprised by the few incidents of swearing in the movie -- its not that I'm opposed to it; fuck no -- its just that it didn't fit the overall tone of the film and was yet more time the Wachowskis ground the gears and pulled me out of their fantasy world. In the end, all the parts were there -- but for me, Speed Racer didn't snap together as cleanly as it should have. There, I said it. If you use this, call me Speed Rally.

Finishing off is The Beef... annddd....

Hi Fellas, I have a pretty good feeling that this movie is gonna get dumped on by the critics, and so I thought I'd try and convince at least a few people that this movie is actually worth their time and expenses. Despite the lackluster feel to the trailers, the corniness of the show, and the over the top approach to the car racing scenes the movie actually succeeds wholeheartedly with its intentions. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that this is actually one of the more enjoyable sports films I've seen the past few years, and certainly the most unique. In terms of just arousing the nerve to get up out of your chair and cheer for the hero this movie rolls with the best of 'em, and that's thanks in great part to a game cast that bring their best to a wacked out racing film for the kiddies. The movie is about the trials of the Racers (as in the family name, not the profession altogether), and their battle to restore the integrity of a sport that has been corrupted by large corporations and to keep those same companies from digging the family auto business a grave from which it won't be able to resurrect. The family consists of Mom and Pops (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon), older brother Rex, little brother Spritle, his pet monkey Chim-Chim, and of course middle sibling Speed (Emile Hirsch). Throw in a Trixie on the side (Christina Ricci) as Speed's lifelong love interest and best friend, and a Sparky for a little kick as Pops' right-hand man and you've got a pretty good recipe for a family to stand by. Speed is obviously the star of the show as a crazily gifted racecar driver who finds himself caught between an ideal racing world where the playing field is even and the best driver wins, and the reality that he comes face to face with when he's approached by Royalton (played by Roger Allam who seems to be the next best thing to Tim Curry) where the winner in the biggest races is decided by who he says. Royalton realizing the popularity and natural gifts of Speed tries to coax him, and the family, into joining the Royalton team. When Speed gets on Royalton's bad side he realizes just how far the reach of the Royalton company stretches over the racing world, and he then has to make a choice between fighting to rid the racing circuits of the Royaltons at any cost (a choice that his older brother may also have made to a fatal end), or to abide by his father's wishes who has already been witness to the demise of one of his sons. Much is going to be said about the visual style of the film, and the defiance of natural physics with the racing scenes and much of it won't be good. That being said, most of those critics are not less than 10 years old and probably never played with hot wheels race cars as a kid, or just didn't play with them correctly. To enjoy the pleasure of the racing scenes you almost have to recall the backyard tossing, flipping and riding up walls that little kids perform while holding their little cars in their hands. Vehicles jump, soar, flip, and slide to a physical rule book written by a playful six year old where rule number one is "if it looks cool then it can, and should be executed", and when the world is a visual cross between Metropolis and Candyland then somehow the vehicle maneuvers seem plausible to the environment. However, that doesn't mean that there isn't a degree of awe to some of Speed's tricks even with the spectators and fans within the film. After all, when you're in the backyard spinning your hot wheels around what fun would it be if you weren't also acting as the commentator shouting out things like "OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT???!!!" Now, the cartoony visuals and the wacky racing scenes are all front and center in the trailers so I wasn't surprised by anything there. What did surprise me was the intense focus on the Racer family (which very much includes Trixie and Sparky) as a unit. The major thing I find lacking in sports films is a relatable support base for the hero. Sure, they have fans that cheer but there's just something extraordinarily contagious about feeling the excitement, nervousness, and every other emotion that goes through the gut of the people that are closest to the character. If we've grown to love the mother/father, boyfriend/girlfriend, brother/sister or whoever then seeing them react to what's happening has a profound effect on the audience. Imagine watching THE KARATE KID without Elizabeth Shue and Daniel's mother rooting Daniel on in the background, an Adrian-less ROCKY film, or if the town of Hickory couldn't care less about basketball in HOOSIERS. But, it's not enough that the filmmakers give those characters enough material, we also have to like them and that falls solely on the shoulders of the actor, which is why you get yourself a John Goodman and a Susan Sarandon. Not to mention Ricci, Paulie Litt, Kick Gurry, Matthew Fox as Racer X, and Willy the Monkey who all bring an ample supply of heart to their roles as Speed's family and fan base. Yes, even the monkey. However, no matter how likeable the family is if Speed is a tool then it's all for not and we're just wondering why such cool people are cheering for such an annoying character, and I'm happy to report that Hirsch holds up his end of the bargain and gives the audience an authentic hero to root for alongside the family. The character is written to make all of the kinds of decisions that you would hope he would, and Hirsch works well to keep the character from falling in to the stereotypical role of an angst teen who we're supposed to hate and then love as he learns his lesson down the road. He never crosses into Anakin Skywalker territory, and for that alone the movie should be commended. He does have his conflicts, but it's usually in trying to reason between doing what's right, or doing what's safe. Of course, the movie is not flawless. It does have its fair share of sports film cliches and lines of dialogue that might bring on an eye-roll or two. Lines like, 'when I'm doing so and so, things just make sense', or 'I can't tell you, that's for you to figure out', or 'when you're out there it's like I'm watching an artist paint', so on and so forth. But, the beauty of cliches is that they aren't completely without a backdoor to success. They can be pulled off if the actor can deliver the line sincerely, like they mean it, and that's why you get a John Goodman or a Susan Sarandon, etc. Matthew Fox is given one of those lines also and I've gotta say that he convinced me. After he said it I really felt as if Speed needed to find something out on his own. There's no secret who this film is targeting. With a PG tag this is geared for the kids too young to make it for the more teenage to adult adventures of the summer, and fans looking to reminisce about the show. But, that's not to say there isn't anything for the adults accompanying the kids to appreciate. Visual flare and absurd race scenes aside there is more than enough comedy provided by Chim-Chim and Spritle to go around, and enough family bonding to convince you that what was shown in the trailers barely scratched the surface of what this movie has to offer. Toss in a fight scene between the Racer family and a ninja to a film directed by the creators of THE MATRIX and you've got yourself some perfect family popcorn fun for the summer. The visuals will bring the candy. Thanks, The Beef
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