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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Speed Racer

“Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go… to the drug store and get me some Dramamine because if I am going to sit through this whole movie I am going to need it or I’ll throw up for sure.”

I’m sorry, Pumpkins, but that was exactly how I felt after fifteen minutes of watching the new release,
Speed Racer. It’s not that the movie is dreadful, though it isn’t exactly Iron Man either. It’s just that it’s painfully … busy all the time.

Speaking of busy, I read this week about a woman named Michelle Duggar who lives in Arkansas who is currently pregnant with her eighteenth child. Just the idea makes my uterus pucker and twitch, and it was tossed in a medical waste bin years ago, yet I am sure is still sympathetic to the nightmarish idea of passing a dozen-and-a-half beings the size of full-grown turkeys through it like a starting gate at what we call the human race. I can’t even imagine a household with that many kids around. At some point, you’ve got to just give up on trying to instill values and character into
each and simply give it a “ready, set, grow” and then wave the checkered flag and hope for the best. It was hard enough with one son. Mine, for example, refuses to allow me to mention him by name in my writings because he is afraid I might “embarrass” him. I figure I do that simply by being his mother even without spilling any personal stories of his life, but, as always, I abdicate to his wishes.

That said, I will tell you that EriXXX, er, um, Aaron (not his real name) was not a big fan of
Speed Racer growing up and so was of no help in filling me in on the finer points of the Racer family saga. He seemed to have missed most of popular culture as a child though God only knows why. I have often taken pride in the fact that you can fry an egg on our television set and have been able to for decades since it goes on first thing in the morning and doesn’t go off until past midnight at the end of each night. Granted, I’ve never let the lad choose the programming while I was home, but I suppose I assumed somewhere along the way he’d pick up the important details of cartoon trivia just as he would his sex education, in the streets or from other boys his age. I saved the important lessons to teach him myself, and I am proud to say that by the time ErXXX, Aaron was ten he could make the perfect extra-dry double martini, play a winning hand of Blackjack, book a full slate of ponies for the day at Hialeah, and whip up a Versace knock-off in less than twelve hours from beginning to end all by himself. Okay, so the last one he learned from my seamstress Lum Ling, but it was my idea that she teach him her clever sweatshop methodology.

All this said, my little darling was loads more useful and just as entertaining and that overly cute little
pudge-rocket named Spritle (Paulie Litt; formerly of tv’s “Hope & Faith”), the younger brother of title character Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch; Into the Wild). Spritle is just one of the many reasons not to take your kids to see this movie, mostly because he and his chimpanzee friend Chim Chim not only dress alike, they behave as if they could be twins, and what could be more thrilling a lesson for your five year old to learn than that it is a good idea when he is upset to give the object of his anger “the finger” and then lob a runny pile of his own feces into the face of the offending party? Now there’s a Mother’s Day present you can’t get from Hallmark! Frankly, though, if my parents had named me “Spritle Racer” I might want to give ‘em a poop facial too.

When you see Speed Racer, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of parents these are. Mom is curiously played by Susan Sarandon, once the voice of a generation’s sexual liberation in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then a feminist icon as she tore up the Southwest as half of the ass-kicking Thelma and Louise, finally becoming an Academy Award winner for her moving performance in the human rights drama Dead Man Walking. And now here she is, decked out in bright primary colors, fretting mindlessly about her pancakes and smiling those empty-headed Stepford Wives’ smiles while her middle son risks his life recklessly in races only an idiot with a death wish would attempt. Worse yet, her first born, Rex (Scott Porter; Prom Night), has already been turned into a human torch in just such a race, but this seems to be a minor concern when it comes to Speed. Pops (John Goodman; Evan Almighty) is only slightly saner, but that’s because he keeps focused on all of the guilt he harbors around Rex’s death since they parted on bad terms. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that their biggest fights were not about racing but about Mom’s hideous taste in decorating. If I was Rex I’d have bolted from home too. The Racer manse is one enormous salute to garish, bold, and shocking colors, all in a late 1950s or early 1960s theme. I was immediately reminded of the fantasy sequence that went with the song “Somewhere That’s Green” sung by Ellen Greene as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors except that when Ellen/Audrey sings about yearning for a home with “plastic on the furniture” the Racers have her beat. Their furniture appears to be nothing but plastic. It’s probably because of that damned monkey, if you know what I mean.

There is way too much plot for what is basically meant to be a children’s movie. There’s a corrupt
corporate tycoon whose Royalton Industries sponsors almost all of the top drivers in the world so that owner himself (Roger Allam; The Queen) can set the agenda for who wins and who loses (shades of professional wrestling back in the ‘50’s!). Royalton’s fixing races has allowed him to manipulate the gambling market and become an absurdly wealthy megalomaniac. It’s hard to say no to someone like that, but when Speed does just after Royalton tries to lure him into the fold, he makes himself an enemy worse than the Wicked Witch of the West. All Speed wanted to do was to continue to let his Dad’s little independent business be his sponsor, but that’s not the way Royalton sees it, and so he sets in place a murderous scheme of revenge against the entire Racer clan. Now, I doubt most kids will care about this plot at all. They want to watch the cars fly and there’s plenty of that, but there is also whole other sub-plot about Korean racer Taejo Togokhan (Rain; Saibogujiman kwenchana) and how he is going to race in the Grand Prix because he is working covertly for the CIA to bring Royalton down while also trying to bring up the selling price of his father’s company. Huh? Wait, wait… it gets better. The mob gets involved, and a mysterious masked driver going by the name of Racer X (Matthew Fox of tv’s “Lost") shows up, and he seems to be Speed’s guardian angel whenever he needs one. Could he somehow be Speed’s long dead brother, but, if so, why not just say so?

As if all this soap opera drama isn’t enough, co-directors and co-writers The Wachowski Brothers also make sure to include Speed’s scary first love Trixie in the mix. Trixie is played by Christina Ricci (
Home of the Brave) and mercifully wears her hair in bangs to cover her gi-normous fivehead. Well, it’s way too big to be called a “forehead”, I’m sorry, but it is. Anyway, there are a few awkward non-nether-region stirring kissy-huggy moments with Speed and Trixie, but, honestly, without those bangs it would be hard to tell the two apart as long as Speed was wearing his crash helmet. When the two of them kiss it is like trying to be aroused by watching two turtles chewing on the same lettuce leaf.

Perhaps this is what one should come to expect from the Wachowski Brothers, who have given the world The Matrix trilogy as well as V for Vendetta. They are a bit different than your usual mainstream filmmakers and that may explain why Speed Racer has gone from being a one dimensional Japanese cartoon to a very three dimensional, multi-layered experience. It is hard to explain, but the film itself actually looks like it was meant to be shown in 3-D, and the images and parts of the story appear to overlap one another at varying times as they move across the screen in different directions either behind or in front of the main action. It is a unique experience that works about half of the time, though it seems to be overused to a point where it is exhausting by the midpoint of the film. Isn’t it enough that they have turned the raceways into rollercoaster loop-de-loops that put you in the driver’s seat going at 800km per hour? Truly, I almost gasped the chunky Technicolor yawn before the movie was over because the blurring images and spinning hues were too, too much. I would have too, but by then I was afraid that the kid sitting near me might pick up a glob and give it a good fling back in my face, or, worse yet, into his own mother’s. Ah, the lessons kids can learn at the movies.

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