Focus on the (Racing) Family

Speed Racer is a well oiled machine of a movie that sometimes raises the blood-pressure, sometimes pauses for a breath, and always shows me combinations of colors I swear I’ve never seen before on or off the screen. Bright glitzy colors wizz accross the screen shelacked, polished, buffed, and piled on so thick, you will utterly lose touch with the shapes that are supposed to contain them. There are so many reflective surfaces on the screen that the film almost seems obsessed with being able to look at itself.

The racing scenes are so chaotic, and the geography of the racetracks so confusing, you just have to trust that the majority of the cars are not going the wrong way altogether. And since both the back and front wheels of these cars can pivot, they do indeed sometimes go backwards. And sideways. And every which-way. Some laps seem to last forever, while some go by quickly. I had no idea at any given point in the race how close these cars actually were to the finish line. But in Speed Racer, winning the race doesn’t matter so much as how you survive it. When I ignored the layout of the various race tracks, things went better for me, especially since there was plenty of flip-floppery and foul-play to pay attention to in the foreground between one car and the next.

The draw to this film will probably be the effects-saturated racing, but by the time the final race comes along, you might find yourself more interested in watching the dynamics between the father, played by John Goodman, the mother, played by Susan Sarandon, and their two sons. The back-story doesn’t matter nearly as much as it deserves to. It involves a “boy” first-named “Speed,” last-named “Racer” (played by Emile Hirsch) and his race-car obsessed family who lost an older son to a racing accident in the years before the action that takes place in the film. I must say, this movie celebrates Family connections, Family relationships, and Family unity like a curb-side uber-1950s-style Swiss Family Robinson. Between the racing scenes there is a whole lot of family interaction: laughter, arguments, tension, exasperation, and forgiveness.

My favorite scene in the whole thing comes during a lull in the middle of the race when members of the family (including the unstoppable John Goodman) engage in highly stylized hand-to-hand combat with corrupt mobster ninja racing baddies. The fight scene is so vivid and funny and energetic, it made me wish that these characters wouldn’t climb back into their cars.

But, alas, this movie is called Speed Racer, so it isn’t long before the family returns to cheering from the stands or cheering at their TV sets while their gifted son, Speed, goes back to doing what he does best. And the best he can do is go, go, go, go, go, until all the going is gone.

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