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Professional Race Driving Techniques (Speed Secrets)
by Ross Bentley
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
This candy store on film is a welcome gift for the four-to-fourteen crowd, video gamers, anime' lovers, and those to whom digital effects trump the story. For the rest of us, the Wachowski Brothers of "The Matrix" fame, borrowing from Japanese cartoons, using a limited palette of primary colors, and applying their own furtherance of cinematic boundary lines, they turn to pure, unadulterated sensory overload.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild") is the second oldest son in the Racer family. The eldest, after training young speed and leaving home after a spat with Pops (John Goodman) is stalwart Rex (Scott Porter) who dies in a spectacular crash, passing the speed baton to Speed. Wife and mother is, what else? Mom (Susan Sarandon), son number three is puffy Spritle (Paulie Litt); Speed's sexy g.f. (girlfriend) is Trixie; and Pops' ace mechanic and pit crew is Sparky (Kick Gurry). I kid you not.
The nature of the races and the speed of the tracks is pure video game on steroid fumes and Speed is such a fearless contender that super sponsor Royalton (lubricious Roger Allam) desperately comes to court Speed to join his team. The method of his churlish wooing of the Racer family leaves no promise of wish fulfillment unoffered. The object is control, so that he can go on manipulating the outcomes of global contests. Alas, Speed turns him down and into his worst nightmare of a villain.
Similarly, Andy and Larry Wachowski leave no hissing or cheering moment unexploited or messages unrepeated as they tell their story at a gasping-for-breath pace with such techniques as rolling montages to avoid even a second's loss of attention. The sports-story fantasy burns at an octane level too high to rate. So why was I nearly overcome by the fumes and the whiplash?
There are, of course, the Royalton-corrupted drivers who give Speed a few impossible runs he'll never forget, a femme fatale or two, and a mob of bad guys in business with the Royalton enterprise. And, there's the suspicion that ally Racer X (Matthew Fox) might actually be Speed's supposedly dead brother because he drives with all the moves and lane strategies Rex taught him.
It's far too caricatured to give the actors much credit since they are all in a cartoon with pumped up emotion. The additive here is overexpressiveness -- something an adult will be choked up by but in the exact right gear for the audience of tots it's designed for. Without much effort beyond maintaining his natural appeal, Hirsch capitalizes on it while the film pretty much depends on that boyish adult charm that he exudes. Ricci has her womanly sensuality in higher gear than we've seen before and, when she's allowed to put it on display, she's smashing. (The scene in the car is singeing). But, alas, this is the comics and sexual contact is held in cool storage by a running gag about how their first kiss is always interrupted. Cute
Cinematographer David Tattersall of "Star Wars" fame had a ball with saturated colors, as the style demanded, but gave delicious modeling to the people in closer proximity, showing his artistic creds even when upstaged by the requirements of spectacle. The film wins the award for the most sound on the track but the music by Michael Giacchino further inflames the drill and grind of the auditory dynamics.
This might have been a far better experience at 90 or so minutes instead of its preposterous 135 but discipline is not fueling this kiddie vehicle extravaganza. Sound, fury, dulling simplicity.
~~ Jules Brenner