Speed Racer has swiftly (pun?) emerged as the box office disaster of 2008, a Treasure Planet-level whoopsie that has crashed and burned to the degree that even in the best case scenario, even after licensing, toys, TV rights, and DVD sales, it will probably be most optimistically judged in terms of how few millions of dollars it's lost for WB.
Is this a shame? Perhaps. It's definitely not a great movie - it may not even be a good one - but I can honestly say that I was entertained while watching it (call this the Transporter 2 effect), if only because it's one of the only truly visually unique movies I've seen in the last several years. It did not look like ANYTHING else I've seen. Everything popped with a hyper-saturated, tripped-out, color-drowned brilliance, with the whole neon, glowing frame constantly sharp and in focus. It was like being force-fed Starburst through your eyeballs. It was insane, but it was goddamn original. And as long as we're on visuals, Christina Ricci was looking really hot.
The flaw lies in the story, plot, characters, and humor - all migrated directly from Saturday morning cartoon land; wafer-thin, silly, unoriginal, uninspired. When the characters talk it's more or less a waste of time, outside of John Goodman, because John Goodman is cool. But a few days after seeing it, I can't remember a single line of dialogue in the movie, which says a lot, and I can only remember the plot because there's so little to grasp: Prodigy racer must win race to defeat evil corporation - that's the whole two hours. Almost all the humor is squarely aimed at the demographic of 8-year-old boys.
But this isn't a drama, and it's in the corny action scenes - the ridiculousness of race cars firing missiles at each other, dodging enemy attacks, jumping over chasms, flipping and spinning and fuck all - that the meat of the film lies, and whether or not you can enjoy it leans on whether or not it bothers you that this is all basically a cartoon with no regard for physics or reality. My inner child loves that shit, so I was able to accept it for what it was an have a fun time. There's also a hilarious kung fu fight involving pretty much the whole cast halfway through that had me cackling with goofy delight.
So I'm stuck in the awkward spot of saying that Speed Racer isn't a movie anyone needs to see so much that it's worth spending money in theaters, but at the same time, I can say with confidence that it'll lose 98% of its impact with the downgrade to a TV screen. You can't just sit back and watch the visuals, you need to goddamn drown in the spectacle of color and madness. So my final word is a recommendation for action fans to go see a cheap midday matinee showing.
2 Stars out of 5