Monday, May 12, 2008

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Go, Speed Racer, Go!

In looking at the box office tallies for this past Mother's Day weekend, I've noticed something unsettling: Speed Racer is only #2. And while I'm a big fan of the #1 Iron Man, I can't help but be shocked and appalled at the lack of Speed love. True, #2 is not a shabby place to be, but good Heavens. Speed Racer, people.

I was a huge fan of the television series growing up. I had a few issues of the comic book series from the late 80s/early 90s. I knew everyone's name and relationship to Speed before checking out IMDb, and that is no small feat --even for my favorite superhero, Batman, I had to research Lucius Fox.

Naturally, I was excited to finally see it come to life, and on the IMAX, no less! But I had been hearing pretty tepid things about it, so I was worried. Did it fail to capture the show? Was more time spent on the visuals than on the story or characterization? Were the performances or, even worse, the screenplay, insincere?

No suspense here, folks: a big fat NO to all of that.

The Wachowskis found the heart and soul of the original series, recreating it tenfold for the motion picture. Yes, racing and cars and fantastic chase scenes and the Mach 5 and all that. But they nailed the true essence of the series: family. The bond between family members, both blood-related and pseudo-adopted (Sparky), is the driving force behind the storyline. Hell, that's why the Racer X/Rex Racer plot was such an important part of the series.

Speaking of which, let's get it out of the way now: Matthew Fox rocks. There could not have been a better choice for the role of Racer X. Fox is bad-ass, rattling off lines in a clipped, bad-ass tone, driving bad-assedly in a bad-ass car. This is the Racer X I remember, if just a tad more sentimental. And it works. I found myself tearing up in one of his last big scenes.

I found myself tearing up a lot in this movie, actually. It's sincere, is the thing. Susan Sarandon is the mom you always wanted your friends to have (because if she was your actual Mother, you'd go to hell for those thoughts). John Goodman's Pops is the quintessential dad. He loves his wife, protects his kids, and destroys would-be assassins with his fists of glory. At one point, Speed recounts a bonding moment with his father, and it's fantastic. The father-son relationship is perfectly nailed.

Emile Hirsch was good, too. He was. In both the script and the performance, there's no trying to make Speed out to be more than he is. He's not smart and he's a little naive. But he's also a damn good racer and a great guy. I'll say this: he's awfully quiet. I believe he even has fewer lines than Korean pop star Rain (who's great in this). But it's fine, because Speed doesn't talk, he drives. Excellent, brilliant, here's your Oscar.

Okay, maybe not for acting. Though let me just say again, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman. Campaign, please. If anything has a chance, of course, it's going to be the Visual Effects Orgasm of the Future. Trying to make a live action, is it possible? From the looks of this movie, I'd say yes, yes, yes! It's beautiful and wonderful, like cotton candy or Skittles. What a wonder! And the costumes! My esteemed editor wanted Trixie's wardrobe; I wanted Racer X's, maybe Speed's, too. And sure, Sparky looks like a dancer at a gay club for most of the film, but what's wrong with that? It's awesome.

Michael Giacchino's score, by the way. He really is shaping up to be one of the greatest composers of this generation. As if Ratatouille, Lost, and the thirteen minutes at the end of Cloverfield weren't enough, he makes Speed Racer his own, while also remembering to pay tribute to the original. How many times did I get goosebumps as I heard the faint traces of "Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer..."? Incredible!

Don't let this happen again, people. Make Speed Racer you're next assignment. Go out to the nearest cineplex and buy a ticket. Regular theatre, IMAX, it matters not. Speed Racer is a grade-A class act.

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