Speed Racer (2008)

(In theaters, May 2008) The Wachowski’s post-The Matrix return to the big screen as writers/directors may not be profound (it is an adaptation of a kid’s Japanese TV animation show), but it clearly shows their gift for pedal-to-the-metal visual storytelling. Big, bright and colorful like few other live-action film, Speed Racer sticks close to its source material and feels like a trip to a surreal parallel universe where gravity is a suggestion and eye-popping architecture is the norm. Few frames in this film aren’t green-screened, color-corrected and CGI-enhanced. For moviegoers interested in the state of the cinematographic art, this is it. It’s a shame, then, that it’s slaved to such a simple story geared to the younger set, a story that missteps by mixing up cute monkey sidekicks alongside corporate machination and a family-friendly message: There doesn’t seem to a be coherent audience for what Speed Racer has to say. But even with that handicap, there’s something fascinating in the way the Wachowskis choose to structure their story: It’s not rare for the film to play with storytelling by featuring flashbacks-within flashback, flash-forwards, inter-cut segments and all sorts of neat storytelling tricks that are wasted on the material, but manage to make the film far more interesting that it would have been if told in a more straightforward fashion. The dizzying structural tricks blend with the flashy visuals for a pure cinema experience that may not make much sense afterward, but certainly feel cool enough in the theater as long as anyone’s brain can sustain the assault. As with other Wachowski films so far, the details are often more interesting that the main film itself: beyond the bland Caucasian nature of the Racer family, the other characters are pleasantly multicultural, if not counter-cultural (a black viking?!), and there are tons of small jokes hidden in the corners of the screen. The images can be breathtaking even as their meaning is bland. Sure, Speed Racer could have been better, but it’s already a remarkable achievement despite its flaws.

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