I can now cross "see a midnight showing of a PG movie" off my list of things to do in life (and thanks to 100.5 "The Buzz," I didn't even have to pay for my ticket!). I've been looking forward to Speed Racer ever since I heard the Wachowskis were going to direct it. I've never been a fan of the show, since it ran back in 1967 and I've never seen a full episode all the way through. But I'll tell you something: this version was one of the coolest movies I've ever seen - and I've seen a lot of movies.
Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox
I don't know if they just caught me in a good mood or what, but this thing had me genuinely smiling for about 90% of it. It was obviously a kid's movie, but that didn't stop me from having a great time watching it. This is definitely something that people of all ages can enjoy, albeit for different reasons. Kids will get a kick out of the slapstick humor and cool races, while the adults will be blown away by a movie that presents visual aspects that have never been seen before.
The closest thing I can compare to Speed Racer is playing Mario Kart Double Dash on the Gamecube. Every race plays like a level from the game, with references (intended or not) to Rainbow Road, Dry Dry Desert, Sherbert Land, Wario Coliseum, and Waluigi Stadium built into the different race courses featured in the movie. Any hardcore player should be able to spot these; I wish I had some side by side screenshots to show you what I'm talking about. There was even a section that featured the "ghost" aspect of the time trials! In any case, the races were incredible. They played like something out of a couple of Cartoon Network shows I saw when I was a kid: Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Cars are modified to gain the upper hand against their competition, so Speed (yes, his name is actually Speed Racer in the movie) has to install parts on his car to deflect the attacks of his opposition. What results is a lot of sweet flips over and around cars in midair and some pretty crazy driving moves that aren't unlike something that you would see in a video game. They might as well have been shooting red shells at each other.
Rising star Emile Hirsch was a blast to watch as the lead character, and he had a solid supporting cast behind him the whole way. Christina Ricci played Trixie, Speed's girlfriend, to perfection. [Side note - their relationship was phenomenal.] I've had a lot more respect for her ever since I saw Black Snake Moan. There was one scene in particular (involving ninjas) where she had an especially comical line that was delivered perfectly and earned a laugh from myself and fellow audience members. John Goodman, as always, was a good father figure (also earning a laugh in that aforementioned scene), and the normally-stagnant Susan Sarandon managed to find some emotion and play a good mother as well. The kid and the monkey were the obvious kid crowd-pleasers, although I could have done without them. Matthew Fox is apparently some sort of superstar from "Lost," although I can't speak for him in that regard since I've never seen that show. He was a decent Racer X and probably could have been played by about 15 other actors in Hollywood and nobody would have known the difference. (Trivia: Vince Vaughn was signed to play him at one point!)
The themes found in this movie are strangely similar to those found in Iron Man. Greedy corporations, glorified individualism (the announcers in this movie seemed curiously biased toward Speed...), etc. But this film, being a family affair, took greater care to reinforce the ideals of family and ethical integrity. All in all, nicely done.
There's really not much else to say other than I can guarantee you've never seen anything like it, because the Wachowskis invented a new camera system specifically for this movie which allowed them to remove the depth of field and focus on objects in the foreground and the background at the same time, giving a more cartoonish look to the project. From what I understand, the whole thing was green-screened. There were some really obvious times when this was evident, and then there were some exceptionally well done times when you forgot that the actors weren't really in that world. The editing was unlike anything I've witnessed outside of The Epic, with multiple layers moving at once and some really cool sliding closeup transitions across the screen that has never been done as well. This technique was even used during the action scenes (the one in the mountain pass was my favorite). I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that.
It's a good thing that I only live about five minutes away from the theater, because the film moves so fast that afterwards you immediately want to get in your car and hit top speed as fast as you can. If you're looking for a unique theatrical experience, then go see Speed Racer. If you don't, there's plenty more action to look forward to this summer. I'll be seein' ya shortly. Until next time...