DVD Review: Speed Racer
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Distributor: Warner Home Video
· Andy Wachowski
· Larry Wachowski
· Emile Hirsch
· Christina Ricci
· John GoodmanKick Gurry
· Paulie Litt
· Roger Allam
· Peter Fernandez
· IMDb: Speed Racer
by R.J. Carter
Published: September 15, 2008
As cartoon-to-live-action adaptations go, "Speed Racer" does better than most, and also has greater missteps than most. The Wachowski brothers have expertly recreated the look of the characters. Emile Hirsch looks very Elvis as Speed, and Susan Sarandon and John Goodman were inspired casting as Mom and Pops Racer. Christina Ricci certainly made for an interesting looking Trixie, but Kick Gurry and Paulie Litt were woefully underused in their roles, the former moreso than the latter.
The colors were garishly primary and secondary neons, and at times I felt like I was watching action on the set of those early-90s Duracell family advertisements -- so much felt so plastic and artificial, that it subtracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the film. That, coupled with the constant scene wipes made it clear that this Wachowski film was all about style with very little substance.
There is a plot, however small. Speed is proving himself as a racecar driver, and is approached by several corporations to have him race for them, attempting to lure him away from the independently owned Racer Motors. Chief among these suitors is Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), who dazzles the Racer family with the lavishness of his corporation. However, the smarmy Royalton is probably the worst of the bunch, perfectly willing to "dispose" of drivers who don't join up with him, which has set him in the sights of racecar driving vigilante and spy, Racer X (Matthew Fox), who is secretly Speed's older -- and thought to be dead -- brother Rex.
When Speed turns Royalton down, life for the Racer family quickly descends into chaos. Speed's only hope to enter the Grand Prix of the World Racing League now is to enter a cross-country rally-race, something Pops is vehemently opposed to. The rally race is "a back alley" sport, according to Pops, where the cars are outfitted with weapons to take out other drivers. Speed defies Pops, however, and enters, the Mach 5 getting a weapons makeover by Inspector Detector and his crew in the hopes that Speed can get evidence on Royalton and expose all the race fixing that's been plaguing the WRL for years.
The races are more than just driving fast. The tracks are more impossible than any kid with Hot Wheels tracks ever dreamed of putting together, defying gravity in places. The drivers are as skilled at automotive Kung-Fu as they are at driving, engaging in mid-air fender fights and chassis-smashing. Toss in a band of hired ninjas and the introduction of the Mach 6, and you've pretty much covered all the highlights of the film for most viewers.
But there's one other bright spot that is likely only to be caught by your true blue fans of the Speed Racer show, and that's with the cameo of the local race announcer, played by none other than Peter Fernandez himself, the original voice of Speed Racer in its American incarnation (and currently voicing Headmaster Spritle in the new series, Speed Racer: The Next Generation).
The downsides to the film go beyond the overdependence on flash and style. The film has a PG rating because of some of the language involved. It's nothing that would probably matter in an original film, but in an adaptation of a classic cartoon series, to which several parents were looking forward to bringing their children, it was simply a poor idea. I know a handful of people myself who were planning to introduce their kids to the Speed Racer franchise they grew up with through this film who instead opted against doing so precisely because of some of the things Speed says in the heat of racing. Fortunately for them, there's still the DVD sets of the original cartoon out there.
The bonus features on this DVD release include a downloadable digital copy of the film, as well as two featurettes. "Spritle in the Big Leagues" is a fourteen minute tour of the film set by Paulie Litt. He takes us through the prop department, introduces us to the animal trainers, and shows off the martial arts training gym, costuming department and digital effects area -- but first he has to escape his trailer and get past producer Joel Silver! We'll get a bit of an interview with Emile Hirsch as well, and trivia tidbits pop up throughout the entire feature.
The second documentary is "Speed Racer: Supercharged," a fifteen minute feature on the World Racing League and the cars that race in it, their sponsors, and the tracks that make up the circuit. This is done totally straight, as though all the cars and drivers were real, which was a creative touch.
Previews on this disc include "Fred Claus," "Another Cinderella Story," Speed Racer the videogame, and "Beetlejuice" 20th Anniversary DVD.