Yes, yes, in the past I very well may have kvetched and harrumphed, snorted and grumbled, picked and nit-picked about how movies such as 300, The Matrix and all their CGI-splattered ilk have blurred the line between cinema and video games to such an indistinguishable level as to render the distinction null and void - yet another cog in the dumbing down of society - but can't a guy be a hypocrite every now and then if he wants to? Hot-wheeling that aforementioned blurred line right into the star-studded, flash-bulbed neo-oblivion is Speed Racer and right there I am, like a bird with a brand new shiny silver dollar, praising it for the exact things I condemned all those other films for. Well, ain't I just a little bastard?
In all sincerity though, even though Speed Racer is nothing more than a candy-coated confectionary cookie of a movie, and very possibly the cinematic anti-christ to boot, it is also quite the (dare I say it for fear of sounding the walking cliché) thrill ride motion picture of the Summer. Pop kitsch and powder-puff pretty - not to mention quite the seizure-inducing spazz-attack of lights action and colour - Speed Racer may not be any great revelation in cinema - not the next Tarkovskian grand guignol - nor is it particularly well-written (all the parts that don't involve racing are as dry as tumbleweed rice cakes) but for sheer unadulterated abandon-all-ye-hope fun, it sure is the kick-kick-kickiest of mod movie mayhem.
Nearly universally panned by my fellow critics this past week (deep in the red on Metacritic), I stand (almost) completely alone atop my wobbly soapbox of indignation as I trumpet the wildly fun qualities of this inexplicably enjoyable mess of a motion picture. Hypocritically or not, I suppose those things other critics are decrying are the very things this critic is going coo-coo-for-cocoa-puffs over. As opposed to 300, which did have its own uniquely delirious visual audacity to it, Speed Racer works as CGI porn. The bright primal colours that would make Jean-Luc Godard blush like a little schoolgirl. The impossibly brazen race tracks criss-crossing like coked-up spider webs against a diamond sky painted just for Lucy. The Anime-esque characterizations of its picture perfect cast where everyone - and not just Christina Ricci - look like mondo Manga. The candied pop art Asianess of the whole glittering, shimmering, glimmering shebang in all its glaring, gaudy, greedy good looks. It all works, despite its many flaws and myriad setbacks, just exactly as it is supposed to work - as live-action cartoon.
Truth be told, perhaps my enthusiasms are a bit on the wide-eyed innocent side for even though it bubbles toward the visual art films of Seijun Suzuki, Takeshi Miike and even Tarantino's bloody Kill Bill fluff, it never really becomes like those films - never delves any deeper than its own metallic surface. IMAX-grade bombast one colleague has said. Sure, it may not be high art - or even middle art - but even this jaded critic, full of a classist snobbery and palpitating pretensions out the proverbial wazoo can still enjoy a five dollar hooker now and then. And that is precisely what the pedantically popcorny Speed Racer is - a cheap, but very well-dressed, whore. [05/12/08]