Speed Racer (2008)
…watching James watch Speed Racer, seeing the joy it brings him, makes it impossible for me to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just not my movie.
Magnificent Bastard sez:
#86 April 6, 2011
It’s Wednesday evening, so it must be time for movie night with James. Tonight was James’ turn to pick, and he brought Speed Racer. I got the impression that he was waiting for me to mock him for his choice… let’s face it, the movie didn’t get much love from the critics. Or the general public. And you know what? That means nothing. Just because something doesn’t speak to everyone doesn’t mean it has nothing to say. Maybe you didn’t get it, maybe you didn’t like it, maybe it wasn’t for you… when a movie sparks a fire in a person’s heart, no argument you can make beats that.
Let me stop here and reflect on that for just a minute. I would hate for you to walk away and believe for even a second that I’m trying to say there are no bad movies. There are bad movies. We all know that, and we even like some of them. I’m not suggesting that just because someone likes a movie it’s immediately absolved of it’s badness. In the first place, you’ll notice I said “sparks a fire in a person’s heart”. That’s a much larger emotional response than “I liked that”. I watch plenty of garbage, and I enjoy it, but that’s not what I’m saying.What am I saying? Excellent question. I’ll get to it. Eventually.
I did not want to mock James for his movie choice. In fact, I had wanted to see the movie when it came out, but I got busy. I guess didn’t want to see it that bad. A question of priorities, nothing more. And now, James was making it a priority.
When I was a young Bastard, my friend Bret and I would race home every day after school and watch the Speed Racer cartoon. We didn’t really like it, but our options were few (West Texas, pre-cable); we watched it and enjoyed making fun of it. Years later, I bought three seasons of it on DVD for nostalgia purposes. It’s telling that I never got around to watching them until last year, when lady lascivious and I were talking about something (I’m not being evasive, I don’t remember what it was!) and somehow Speed Racer was referenced, so of course now I have an excuse for having the DVD’s and I run and grab a season off the shelf. We sit down to watch it and it’s not 5 minutes before she’s twitching. She gamely makes it through 4 mini-episodes, at which point I spare her. And myself, because as bad as I remembered it being, it was actually worse. At least there are no worries about the Wachowski siblings trampling on my beloved cartoon. Trample away!
Speed Racer is not my movie. I think it’s fair to acknowledge that going in. I’m not really a “car” guy. I don’t like working on cars, and the older I get the more I realize I just want the damn thing to get me where I’m going and do it comfortably. I owned a couple of muscle cars back in my teens, but moved on to more utilitarian vehicles soon, because deep down I’m not a driver. It’s taken me years to figure that out, because I’m also a control freak and hate giving up that control to let someone else drive. Damn you, tortured psyche! James loves his car, and he says that Speed Racer resonates with him for that reason.
James sees Speed Racer in terms of Speed’s love of driving and his ability to become one with his vehicle, not so much driving the car as melding with it, the car becoming an extension of yourself but not like a cyborg with it’s cold metal skeleton being controlled by human thought; no, it’s as if the car itself becomes alive and organic and responds to your wishes like your own muscles.
I see Speed Racer as a movie where two visionary directors took a property that had nothing, absolutely nothing, to say, and try to do something wild and different. They made a live action cartoon that out-cartooned the cartoon it was made from. The colors, the race sequences, the blending of live action and CGI that looked fake but felt real… amazing. I loved that the Wachowskis kept many of the names from the cartoon, and none meant more to me than one of the “bad guy” drivers, Snake Oiler. What a name! And in the movie, his car has a snake gun. So say your driving next to him, and you’re about to pass him, he can shoot a snake into your cockpit, assuming of course he didn’t stop you from getting too close with his rear facing oil nozzles. Yes, it’s silly. But when I was 8 years old, that was one of the only funny things in the cartoon, so shut up. I’m glad he was in there, just for the nostalgia factor.
My problems with the story are that it was just as boring and predictable as the cartoon. So much attention was paid to the look and feel of the movie that no one bothered to work on the story. Characters aren’t developed, characters aren’t used. Christina Ricci, god bless her, does her best to make Trixi the most interesting person on the screen, but you’ll barely notice her as she pops up, says something to move the plot along, and then disappears again. I spent a decent chunk of the movie wishing she would come back, and that’s inexcusable. It’s one thing if I walk out of a movie and, on later reflection, wish a minor character had been better used. It’s another thing when I’m doing it in mid-movie. It’s even worse when I’m doing it in an action movie.
And then there’s Spritel. The Wachowskis evidently decided that every time the story was getting boring (which was often) they’d have this little kid pop out and do something funny for the kids. If you were to remove half of his shtick and use that time to develop the other characters, you might have a good story.
Underneath all of those flaws, though, is the movie’s soul, a song it’s trying to play on the strings of your emotions. I couldn’t hear it, but James could. And James loved it. And watching James watch Speed Racer, seeing the joy it brings him, that makes it impossible for me to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just not my movie.