'Speed Racer': It's Hell, Wachowski Style, on Wheels How can something look so bright, and move so fast, and still be so dull? Oh, right: The creators of The Matrix are involved.
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'Speed Racer': It's Hell, Wachowski Style, on Wheels

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'Speed Racer': It's Hell, Wachowski Style, on Wheels

Review

Arts & Life

'Speed Racer': It's Hell, Wachowski Style, on Wheels

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There's no way we're getting rid of our movie critic, Bob Mondello, and in fact we're going to hear from him right now.

And Michele, what's Bob up to today?

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Well, here's a hint.

(Soundbite of "Speed Racer" theme music)

NORRIS: That's the team from "Speed Racer," the cartoon from the 1960's. This weekend, a "Speed Racer" hits the big screen. It looks and sounds a little bit different. Instead of line drawings, there are now live actors racing through a digital environment. Bob says the film is flashier, and of course longer, than the TV show, yet just as cartoonish.

BOB MONDELLO: The digitized Mach 5 racer flips and flashes, zooms and careens, sparks and slides sideways, leaps barriers and loops the loop, cheerfully defying every law of physics you've ever heard of. Gravity? What's that? Centrifugal force? Hah. The Second Law of Thermodynamics? Well, actually, I don't know much about that one, but I'm confident in saying it does not apply here.

How could something look so bright and move so fast and be so dull?

(Soundbite of movie, "Speed Racer")

MONDELLO: Oh right, the Wachowski brothers are involved, the guys who made "The Matrix" and then followed it up with technically sophisticated movies that are loud, paranoid, simple-minded, and dark.

"Speed Racer" marks a major change; it's not dark. It's hyper-bright with colors so lurid they'd vibrate even if nothing were in motion. Of course, everything is in motion. People standing still whoosh across the frame. Painted black and white zebras gallop on the racetrack's walls. And the trick to zipping through all this? Rex Racer explains to his little brother Speed.

(Soundbite of movie, "Speed Racer")

Mr. SCOTT PORTER (Actor): (As Rex Racer) All you got to do is listen. Close your eyes and listen.

MONDELLO: Now, that's a thought. But if you close your eyes and listen, you'll hear the dialogue, which thuds about as often as the bad guys' cars do. At least I think they're the bad guys' cars; it's hard to tell at times. With all those potentially seizure-inducing visuals, "Speed Racer" is never very easy to follow, even with a story that can be summed up as: family good, corporate conglomerate bad. This from Warner Brothers, part of the world's biggest media conglomerate.

(Soundbite of movie, "Speed Racer")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Sign that contract.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) What you do behind the wheel of a race car has nothing to do with business.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) You walk away from this deal, no matter how well you drive, you won't win, you won't place. I guarantee you right now, you won't even finish the race.

MONDELLO: To his credit, Speed is unfazed by all this. He's played by Emile Hirsch, who has previously looked uncannily likely Leonardo DiCaprio and here looks uncannily like Ray Liotta, which is not really a good trade. He's surrounded by fine actors whose chief contribution is that they resemble the line drawings they're replacing. Since they're performing entirely in front of green screens, with everything else painted in digitally, "Speed Racer" is mostly just substituting one form of animation for another. And no doubt that marks a thrilling advance of some sort, if you're a tech geek or nine years old.

If not, well, here's hoping that after subjecting yourself to eyeball-lacerating visuals, earsplitting sounds and mind-numbing product placement for 129 minutes, roughly six back-to-back TV episodes at one sitting, you don't have to drive home right away.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of "Speed Racer" theme music)

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