[Review]All flash and no substance, but a fun ride

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[Review]All flash and no substance, but a fun ride


Despite having few lines, Korean pop star Rain adds to the visual appeal of “Speed Racer.” [MovieWeb]

When I told my colleagues about which movie I’d review this week, one editor at this paper fondly recalled how he’d loved the original anime cartoon version of “Speed Racer” as a 4-year-old.
But the Speed Racer in theaters now is hardly the cutely clunky cartoon of the 1960s. This version, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, transfers the antiquated anime into slick, futuristic live action against a whole lot of computer-generated imagery.
The result is a psychedelic swirl of neon, probably most appealing to children of the video game generation or stoners, but still enjoyable for the hoi polloi. No other flick is so firmly committed to the dayglo palette.
Stylistic retro details, such as the flip of Mom Racer’s hairdo, also nicely reflect the film’s cartoon origins while contrasting with “The Fifth Element”-style race track scenes. The result is a future strangely similar to that of “The Jetsons,” only in oversaturated Technicolor.
Faithful fans of the film’s anime predecessor will be glad to note the Wachowski brothers’ attention to detail. The directors deserve a nod for their spot-on casting of Emile Hirsch as the title character. With his boyish good looks, round face and angular eyebrows, he embodies the original anime character better than anyone else in Hollywood, especially clad in his classic getup of white pants, blue polo shirt and red kerchief.
The same goes for Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer and John Goodman as Pops Racer, and there’s even a cheeky, feces-flinging chimpanzee as Chim-Chim. Christina Ricci as Trixie gets the haircut right, but her wardrobe gets sexed up — we’re not in the ’60s anymore, eh? — although her chaste demeanor remains in place.
For Koreans, the big attraction will likely be pop star Rain’s Hollywood debut. Rain’s English is passable — thanks to his limited lines and probably partly due to his appearances on “The Colbert Report” — and I applaud him for his insistence on sticking to his Korean roots for his stint as Taejo Togokhan. But I will say this, I’ve never met a Korean with a three-syllable surname, nor a sister with a Japanese name.
At times, the cartoonish elements of Speed Racer get a bit old. Is it really necessary for the green-screen background, complete with awkward visual seams, to blend into a motif of hearts when Trixie and Speed meet? And enough with the horizontal wipes to change scenes — at some point, it stops being clever and begins to distract the viewers.
But distract them from what? The storyline of Speed Racer is basic and simple, but I don’t count this among the film’s faults. It’s a visual stunner — except for the poor green-screen work — based on a TV show that mesmerized kindergartners. And it’s still kid-friendly, with lots of explosions but very little blood and just one kiss, which comes with a “cooties alert.” It’s a story of good versus evil, family versus corporatocracy, and the ending is predictable, yet still enjoyable.
Speed Racer will never be one of my favorites, but it delivers exactly what it promises: Glitzy graphics, big-name stars and a happy ending. So what if it’s all flash and no substance?

Speed Racer
Action, Sport / English
129 min.
Now playing

By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]
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