Genre Movie #14: “Speed Racer” (2008)
There was a time when “The Matrix” absolutely would have been on this list. It is still a great movie, but the Wachowski Brothers’ two interminable and pointless sequels dissipated its cred. But I had to include a Wachowski Bros. movie in the countdown: in spite of an uneven career, and their tendency toward ever more ponderous and pretentious scripts, there is no doubting the two filmmaker’s imagination and visual daring.
This was never more clear than in their long-awaited, live-action, big-screen version of “Speed Racer,” the famous 1960s cartoon that helped kick off the Japanimation (later anime) craze in the State. While the movie bombed at the box office — by one measure, the 10th biggest loser in history — “Speed Racer” did not fail because of lack of ambition or love of the source material. It certainly didn’t fail visually, as it is one of the most eye-popping, stunningly designed, densely packed action flicks of the last decade.
There are a lot of reasons why “Speed Racer” didn’t do well (my two reviews of it are still online), not the least of which it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be — too political to be a kid flick, too cartoonish to be taken seriously by adults — followed by a disastrous, misdirected marketing campaign. (It was also filmed and edited during the most stressful time of the brother’s life, when Larry Wachowski underwent a sex change operation and became Lana. So, clearly they were distracted.) It is, in the end, simply put, too long; if ever a movie could benefit from a Phantom Edit cut, it is this one.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching, just that it can be challenging to watch. In the intervening years, the movie has developed a cult following, especially over at io9; and on my other blog, I spent the some months breaking down all the car designs in the film. Turns out there were a lot.
Bonus entertainment round, for those who made it to the end of this entry! A few years ago, when Inception mashups were all the rage on You Tube, I realized there wasn’t one for Speed Racer. That has since been rectified: