Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'Speed Racer' runs out of gas early on

*1/2 out of ****

"Speed Racer" is a candy-colored film that is more style than substance. Too long and confusing for young ones, too feverish and hip for most adults, "Speed Racer" runs off course.

Based on a Japanese cartoon series and popular comic, "Speed Racer" now takes a turn as a $100 million blockbuster.

In a film that possibly utilizes more green screen for its perfectly fine balance between cartoon and CGI than any other, "Speed" may go fast, but the film still is a drag.

Set in a futuristic society, Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer, a kid who has racing on his mind and in his blood. His Pops (John Goodman) builds race cars and his brother Rex (Scott Porter), one of the best racers in the world, drives them. However, things change when Rex dies in a tragic accident. Unfazed, Speed gets behind the wheel of his brother's car, the Mach 5, and vrooms-off.
One of the most precocious racers on the track, Speed catches the menacing eye of racing entrepreneur Royalton (Roger Altman).

Royalton shows Speed the dark truth about racing with a daunting ultimatum: Speed drives for Royalton or never races again.

With the help of the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) and Taejo Togokahn (Korean pop-star Rain), Speed is determined to bring down the evil Royalton and bring credit back to the sport he loves so much.

The kaleidoscope visuals are equivalent to having Starbursts bombard your cornea. Trying to recreate the sugar-rush cartoon effect, "Racer" succeeds in essence, but not as a whole, playing out like a video game that has you searching for a controller.

In their first non-"Matrix" directorial effort in years, the Wachowski Brothers sputter-out with "Speed Racer." The camera work and creativity is top-notch, but feels uncontained. The race scenes are a rollercoaster ride on the crazy tracks that you might find inside a Hot Wheels box, but in between not much transpires.

"Speed" is a film that focuses more on visuals than acting. The cast looks the part, but still acts like the one-dimensional characters they are portraying. Emile Hirsch squints in concentration in front of the green screen with the mega-pixels doing the rest of the work. Christina Ricci, who plays Speed's girlfriend Trixie, nicely compliments Hirsch.

Paulie Litt, who plays little brother Spritle, fails to be energetic, though his role is of a hyper, sugar-crazed kid. Matthew Fox is dead behind the eyes, delivering the most monotone performance of the decade as the highly secretive Racer X.

The most animated performance comes from the Racer family's pet monkey, Chim Chim, who even upstages a pro like Susan Sarandon. Still she can't make the childish dialogue fly off the page as caring Mom.

Perhaps the film is too far ahead of its time. "Speed Racer" might win all of the races, but by the time he completes the first leg, the movie is low on gas.

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