Based on Speed Racer (AKA Mach Go Go Go) by Tatsuo Yoshida
Adaptation Grade: A+
SPEED: Racing’s in our blood. Like for Pops, it isn’t just a sport. It’s way more important than that. It’s like a religion.
Directed by The Wachowskis, of The Matrix fame, Speed Racer was a colossal flop at the box office. Which is why it is very likely that I am about to enrage you, befuddle you and/or arouse your pity.
Because, in the years since its release, I have called the live-action adaptation of Speed Racer “so very unfairly maligned” and said I “love it with a deep and some might say disturbing passion”. I’ve exalted that it’s “fucking incredible!” and called it “one of the greatest movies of all freaking time”.
I stand by every one of those statements, and more besides.
Yes, it hurts the eyes and makes the head whirl (and was unfortunate enough to release around the same time as Iron Man), but why does everyone have such a hate on for this awe-inspiring film? No, I take that back, it isn’t a film, it’s an experience! You are thrust into a world of vibrant colors and frenetic pacing, with memorable performances and unbelievable effects. The beginning is disorienting and eye-popping and brilliant, the ending is gratifying and heartening and cool, and all the stuff in the middle is pure ironic, iconic, iconoclastic excellence.
Not only is it an incredibly clever adaptation of a manga and anime series that, while always fun, didn’t have a lot of depth to it, it is also just a really fun, exhilarating ride. It is like Cars came to life and mated with the Dachau Rally, but also ended up with DNA from early Atari BASIC programming, Jet Li’s body of work and the essays of Karl Marx. The only false note is that Christina Ricci, while adorable, seems just a little too mature to be playing young Emile Hirsch’s childhood sweetheart Trixie, but then that may only be because she has been constantly in the geek public eye since her first breakthrough role (in The Addams Family), practically when she was a zygote.
The thing is, I know that I’m something of a lone voice in the wilderness here. I know that there’s nothing I can say to change so many minds already made up. I think it’s spectacularly unfair that simple bad word of mouth has put this truly paradigm-shattering cinematic experience at the top of so many “Worst” lists. I just don’t think it was ever given a fair go; the first ten minutes are so higgledy-piggledy perfect that perhaps some viewers just didn’t manage to get past the full-throttle whirligig of back story and foreshadowing and awesome, awesome, awesome Daytona 500-style car racing and catch their breath long enough to really appreciate the entire film for what it is.
Also, John Goodman is in it, and there seems to be a popular opinion that every one of his movies has to tank at the box office. The John Goodman Curse: a very strange phenomenon, especially considering he is such a class actor, eminently watchable in every way.
I will say that, aside from the aforementioned Christina Ricci disconnect, there is one other part of the film with which I have some trouble. It’s the part where rival racing driver Taejo Togokahn (Korean pop sensation Rain… or as Stephen Colbert would once have had it: “RAAIIIIN!!!”) is held captive by cartoonish thugs, and the violence they inflict upon him is a little too hardcore for what is otherwise a pretty kid-friendly flick. But otherwise, this movie is just PERFECTION, and I don’t feel the need to explain myself any longer. You’ll never convince me otherwise. Speed Racer is a movie of surpassing wonder, and I will hold firm to that conviction to the very end of my days.
Damn. I forgot to mention the ninjas.
Speed Racer (2008)
Written by: The Wachowski Brothers
Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers
Starring: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, Rain