Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Go Speed Racer Go

I was really looking forward to the Speed Racer movie, but when the Rotten Tomatoes reviews starting rolling in, the movie was getting a critical drubbing. Not just a "some folks don't seem to like it" but a "Every right-thinking critic hates it" kind of thing. Currently, it stands at a pretty brutal 35%.

I don't know what movie those critics saw, quite honestly. Because after reading reviews by Heidi MacDonald and Chris Sims, I decided to go ahead and take my daughter to it, and we both loved it.

Yes, the dialogue is a bit hokey and the plot is completely predictable. Yes, it probably should have lost half an hour somehow. But the ideas, the visual style, the sheer fun of the movie is undeniable, the racing and fighting scenes are imaginative, fresh and *great*, and the story and characters are perfectly fun. I suspect that a lot of the critics were expecting it to be either: A) Wildly inventive bizarre storytelling from the Wachowskis or B) Wink-wink nudge-nudge self-referential pop humor about how lame Speed Racer cartoons were.

Instead, what they got was a sentimental (at times melodramatic), funny (at times goofy), action-packed straightforward story. It's the "one man against a corrupt system with his family behind him" story that we've all seen dozens if not hundreds of times, but it's backed by some truly outlandish and ground-breaking visuals. It's got more in common with the visual style of Tim Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory or ABC's Pushing Daisies than it does with The Matrix or V For Vendetta, and maybe critics were unprepared for that.

Or maybe, as Sims suggest, they actively hate joy. I know that Lisa Schwarzbaum's review in EW practically drips with contempt for the source material, and she's definitely reviewing the movie they failed to deliver (that she was clearly expecting) rather than taking the movie on its own terms, and I suspect a lot of reviewers brought that baggage with them. Certainly the deflated expectations of The Matrix sequels will dog the Wachowskis in all future reviews, just as the diminishing returns of M. Night Shyamalan's movies have made him a target for critics.

But if you go in expecting a fun, candy-colored pop action movie like the one promised in the trailer, I can't imagine being disappointed. And for the record, I enjoyed the trailers, disliked The Matrix sequels and was not even remotely a fan of the original Speed Racer cartoons, so there's my prejudices laid out right up-front.


Patrick Roberts said...

The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer... but the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard

Dereck said...

I'm kinda with you on this one Randy. My initial reaction to the first trailer was kind of an "uh-oh" but the more I saw of it the more intrigued I got. But after the reviews and last weekend's performance I was expecting a stinker. Well, I just left the theater with my 5-year-old and he loved it. I thought it took some getting used to but by the end I was digging it greatly. I walked out thinking, "That's probably exactly what a live-action Speed Racer movie should be like"

The cross-country race? Several shades of awesome!

Randy said...

Patrick, take out the Flintstones and Dukes of Hazzard and I agree with you... but you say that like it's a bad thing. :)