Film Spotlight: Speed Racer (2008)

For the first installment of a new regular feature on the website, Matthew Hayhow talks about his love for the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer – a film with a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

People tend not to believe me when I tell them how much I love Speed Racer. Without having seen it they’ll inform me that it’s a pointless remake of a cartoon nobody likes, and besides, everyone knows that every movie the Wachowskis made since The Matrix is terrible. And while it’s true that the Wachowskis’ canon is rife with missteps, I maintain that Speed Racer, despite its shocking Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores, is a modern classic.

First of all, it’s beautiful. The races are breath-taking; each one has its own style with its own colour palette and despite so much going on it is easy to follow, in contrast with the modern Fast and Furious shakycam nonsense you see in so many movies, and the direction gives you an incredible sense of speed and movement. It’s almost entirely CGI, but the CGI is used in an inventive stylistic way – think 300 or Sin City instead of Attack of the Clones. Speed Racer stays true to the spirit of its source material – it’s obvious the Wachowskis are big fans – so it’s crazy and psychedelic and over the top.

The surprisingly complex story of Speed Racer (his name is actually first name Speed, last name Racer) and his battle to maintain purity in the heartless, money-driven racing industry is full of action, adventure and genuine heart. The performances are great, particularly Roger Allam, who plays the likably evil English corporate tycoon who tries to buy out Speed. I’d favourably compare it to Scott Pilgrim vs the World, which Speed Racer predates by two years, in that it is full of extreme editing, effects and camera zooms heavily inspired by Japanese anime.

It achieves what films like Flash Gordon and Buckaroo Banzai go for, and as a result, it’s one of the most genuinely fun, creative, campy cinema experiences of recent times. Like most great cult films, some people are just not going to get it, but if you’re the sort of person that likes, you know, fun, rent Speed Racer and spread the word. “Ninja? More like a NONja!”

[Matthew Hayhow]

If you have an underrated favourite you think deserves some more attention, or if you feel you can bring a fresh perspective to an old classic, chuck an email with your ideas to with ‘FAO: Film Editor’ in the subject line.

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