Our Wachowski series wraps up Monday and Tuesday with the filmmaking duo’s most controversial effort, 2008’s Speed Racer. Audiences and critics alike waved the black flag at it on its initial release, but over the years it’s gained a small but vocal group of defenders.
To understand Speed Racer it’s important to look first to the source material: the wiggy 60’s-era Japanese import cartoon that is best known today as America’s first exposure to anime. If you close your eyes and remember the cartoon your mind is most likely to paint it in broad strokes, because that’s all it was: big eyes, bold colors, exciting races, characters with names like Racer X and Inspector Detector.
The cartoon featured a stark world of good guys and bad guys, and that’s replicated in the Wachowski version, as Speed and his family are first aggressively courted and then menaced by the slimy Royalton racing empire. While filmed with a live-action cast (including Racer family mascot Chim Chim!), the movie keeps one foot solidly in the realm of animation. From the first moments of the film we’re immersed in an an eye-popping palette of CGI backdrops: interiors and costumes sport bold primary colors, while exterior details — trees, grass, sky — are rendered in neon bubble-gum hues.
The result is a stylized, dream-like world in which there’s no love greater than the love of auto racing, and where simple values like family and friendship can trump even the most sinister agendas. In the hands of any other director, the temptation to give in to high camp would have been too strong. Fortunately, the Wachowskis play it absolutely straight, making this a strange and delightful cinematic homage. — Michael Popham
SPEED RACER screens Monday and Tuesday, April 27 and 28, at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.