Sunday, May 18, 2008

speed racer review

the new speed racer movie didn't do as well as expected on opening weekend. in today's movie market, movies that don't have a massive open don't stay in the theaters for long, so i knew if i wanted to see it on the big screen, i had to do it soon. virago was a good enough sport to tag along.

i wanted to follow designer john gaeta's recommendation to see it in a theater with digital projection, so we went to the new AMC at castleton, which is only the second all-digital theater in the metropolitan area (the other's in plainfield). the theater is nice, with stadium seating and all the other frills that come standard on multiplexes these days.

on to speed racer: the visuals were spectacular. you could pause the film at almost any frame and have something worthy of being your desktop wallpaper, if not an actual poster on your wall. that alone made it worth seeing in the theater: this movie will still look wonderful at home on HDTV, but not as fantastic as it looked on a full digital movie screen.

so, on the level of something beautiful to trip out to, speed racer excels. this is definitely one to get on blu-ray and play on mute during parties. but what if you haven't been tossing back brews or bong hits all night? is it a good movie?

in terms of plot, storytelling, character development, and the usual metrics for critiquing film, speed racer does okay but not great. the plot is predictable. (care to guess who wins the big race at the end?) many of the characters come off as one-dimensional and (surprise) cartoonish, and the dramatic scenes have a tendency to drag.

then, there's spritle and chim-chim, speed's little brother and the family's pet chimp. as i feared, there is too much spritle and chim-chim in the movie. i understand that they were important characters in the show and thus needed to be included, but their screen time could have been cut significantly. that said, there were a few very nice scenes with these two, like the scene early on when they're watching kung-fu cartoons and visualize themselves as part of the action.

the movie had lots of cute scenes like that, from the opening scene of young speed at school fantasizing about racing to the heart-shaped flashbulbs during the big kiss at the finish line as the movie ends. but in between all the cute scenes and the whiz-bang graphics, there was stuff that wasn't as good—it moved slowly, was poorly acted, or was just silly.

so overall, a bit of a mixed bag. much better than i feared, but not as good as it could've been with a stronger script. virago called it "pretty but dumb", which sums it up nicely. the original cartoon was much the same—awesome yet absurdly campy and contrived—and the movie is very faithful to that spirit.

the kids who were sitting behind us loved it, and if i were 10, it would be the coolest movie ever. as an adult, i still had a lot of fun, but would've preferred more character development and less spritle. A+ for special effects; B- for storytelling.

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