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Laramie Movie Scope:
Speed Racer

Cartoonish in the extreme

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 21, 2008 -- “Speed Racer” is as close to a live action simulation of a cartoon as you are ever likely to see. It is flashy, dazzling, visually exciting and loaded with ultra-bright primary colors. As such it is more suitable for kids than adults, unless you are an adult with a lot of child inside. This movie appealed to the kid in me. The adult in me had to give up trying to make sense of it, trying to find any character development, trying to understand the motivations of the characters, trying to find anything at all in the movie that was remotely believable. Instead, I came to appreciate what this film is, a very pretty, colorful roller coaster ride, a wonderful construction of visual imagination. Prettiest of all is Christina Ricci, who looks like a beautiful porcelain doll in this film playing Speed Racer's girlfriend, Trixie.

Speed Racer is played by the talented Emile Hirsch of “Into the Wild.” The relationship between Speed Racer and Trixie is as chaste and sexless as a vintage 1950 Disney cartoon. John Goodman of “Evan Almighty” plays Speed Racer's dad and Susan Sarandon of “Enchanted” plays Speed's mother. Kick Gurry of “Spartan” plays the sidekick mechanic Sparky, who hangs around Speeds house for no particular reason. He doesn't seem to have a life of his own. Richard Roundtree (the original “Shaft”) plays legendary race car driver Ben Burns. Matthew Fox of the TV series “Lost” plays the not-so-mysterious Racer X.

Speed Racer is the best race car driver in the world, driving for his family-owned Speed racing team. A giant corporation tries to sign him to a contract, but Speed refuses. He is then told that the races are all fixed in order to enhance corporate profits and he'll never win another race unless he plays ball with the big boys. He soon finds himself being knocked out of races by drivers and others who are cheating. Speed is approached by two investigators, Racer X and Inspector Detector (played by Benno Fürmann). The investigators want to clean up the corruption in the sport of racing and to jail the corporate giants involved. Speed agrees to help. Part of the scheme involves Speed participating in a very dangerous cross-country race against the wishes of his father.

The plot is even more complicated than the outline above would indicate, so it may be a bit difficult for younger children to understand, but they will be able to understand the races at least. The races are all run at frantic speeds and dirt-track “Tokyo drift” style. Powerful mechanical thrusters enable the cars to jump up into the air to hurdle obstacles. Sometimes the cars do spectacular horizontal flips in the air. Although Speed's father objects to only one particular race as being dangerous, all of the races in the movie are dangerous. Plenty of drivers die, although their deaths are mostly off-screen. There are deadly figure eight races, road rallies over steep mountain roads and numerous high jumps. There seems to be almost no rules against dangerous driving tactics. In some of the races Ben Hur-style wheel rippers and other deadly gadgets are allowed. Some of these death-dealing gadgets are similar to those seen in cheesy movies like “Death Race 2000.” Overall, however, the movie is so cartoonish and so far removed from reality and so thin on plot and characterizations it is too silly to be taken seriously. It is fun to watch, more so for kids than adults. I had fun watching it. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)