View from the Street: “Speed Racer”

With an abysmally-low $20 million debut, perhaps the public took out their anger of rising gas prices on Speed Racer? O.K. probably not, but you certainly won't find sadness here for the latest from The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix Trilogy).Speed RacerOriginally a late 60s, Japanese animation import, Speed Racer has been juiced for 2008 with color, noise, the latest in special effects gadgetry, and, ultimately, tediousness. A poster proclaims "Speed Has No Limits" but apparently neither does boredom as it clocks in at 135 minutes, and seems woefully longer.Ever so briefly: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the upstart phenom of the race circuit. After he turns down an enticing contract offer from a sponsor with questionable motives, he teams up with his one-time rival, the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox, easily the best thing to watch here) to expose the practices of the corporations that rule the circuit.There's more, but what's it matter? It's all about glorifying reckless, relentless driving aimed squarely at the PG crowd. Oh sure I get it, it's all supposed to look like a frenetic video game, with cars bouncing like pinballs and executing gee-whiz flips and turns, but there's no realism, no consequence. When cars explode into fireballs, their drivers catapult safely encased in what looks like a million pods of bubble wrap. Another car gets forced off a cliff, the driver parachutes to safety. You get the idea. Everyone lives to race another day.Films get slapped with a PG-13 or R rating because of sex, drug use, violence or foul language. But the ratings board continues to give Hollywood a pass on edifying cars in our culture in a dangerous manner. Letting people speed or allowing improbable chase scenes that injure no pedestrians (for starters watch any of the Bourne or Bond films) seems like no big deal. Here's a film actively being marketed to impressionable youngsters with a tag line "He's Hell on Wheels," showing cars hurtling at speeds of hundreds of mph. How much does that factor into a rating? If at all?Yes I will admit, with most of the action confined to the track, at least there's no reckless racing on neighborhood streets a la Fast and the Furious, which I half expected. And no car sponsors either. None. (Although at one corporation everyone uses a Segway to travel about. Want to make a film seem more futuristic? Just eliminate walking.)Ultimately, our hero driving the sleek, white Mach 5 gets the girl and everything. And how can you not with creepy advice from a big bro like this:
"...a car's a living breathing thing. And she's alive. You can feel it talking to you, telling you what she wants, what she needs, all you gotta do is listen."
If my brother told me that at age 8 or 9, certainly I would be "obsessed with automobile racing" as Speed's teacher tells his mom at a conference.Speed Racer feels more like product, then film. On sale is the mind-numbing CGI: cars glow, sparkle, and dance in ways you've never seen. 15 minutes into the bombardment you'll be relieved when the action shifts to more human moments like in the family living room. But sadly, that's when things get worse.
  • Entertainment Rating: D+
  • Livable Streets Rating: D+
  • The Streetfilms Skinny: Even if you love NASCAR, you'll pray this isn't the future of racing.
(Editors note: With the film industry churning out plenty films and documentaries that put cars, transportation, or the environment in the spotlight, Streetfilms will be periodically reviewing new films and DVDs and let you know what we think. Please give us feedback on our grades and commentary.)