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Speed Racer: Almost a Great Movie, But Disappointing (review)

I wanted to like Speed Racer a lot. I grew up with it. The cartoon is the first thing I remember watching on our new color TV. The movie was cast perfectly, with everyone's looks and mannerisms similar to what I recall. The plot was a more sophisticated version of the cartoons, complex enough to survive 90 minutes.

Where did the movie go astray? It tried too hard to be modern. Rather than create a new product based on the old, like the Spiderman and Superman franchises, it tried to blow us away with a sense of what Speed Racer could be.

I was going along happily until Spritle flipped off the bad guys in an elevator. While the movie was hardly profanity-laden, it had Speed, Racer X and several other protagonists using course language. This was unnecessary to plot and character development and showed weak screen writing.

Racing scenes mimicked some of the old hyperbolism of the 1960s version, but took it too far. The CGI and other animation were colorful and amazing artistically, but left all sense of drama behind. I couldn't follow which car was which in the blur of jumps and loops. It was like my old Hot Wheels set on LSD.

Christina Ricci looked like Trixie. With her, the personality update was OK in that she was less of an airhead Betty Boop and more of a genuine, confident woman. Speed Racer's relationship with her pushed what I would be comfortable letting a young child see. While nothing happens, a scene at Inspiration Point is led along until Spritle and Chim-Chim are found in the car.

Many aspects of Speed's personality are rich and right on the money. His disdain for school as a child and the implication Trixie cheated to help him graduate was a poor choice.

John Goodman cast as Pops Racer was brilliant. He had the look and feel of what I would expect of a guy running a racing company.

Paulie Litt is terrific as Spritle. An actor to watch. In a DVD extra, he takes viewers around a tour of the studio during which production people explain their role in developing the film. He's playful and smart, and I expect we will see more from him.

The plot is solid. When billionaire E.P. Arnold Royalton wants Speed to race for him, Speed is intrigued. For good reason too. Royalton offers incredible training, resources and glamor, as well as the promise that his family will be free from financial worry. The trouble is races are fixed. Speed's integrity is challenged. He fights back against corruption by rejecting the impressive offer, but Royalton pushes right back with a bounty on Speed in the next race. Racer X gets involved, as does another racer looking to escape from Royalton's clutches.

Overall, my expectations were higher. While marketed to young viewers, the race scenes, profanity and romantic themes might be too much. For me, not so young, this was the case. I was confused at times, and disheartened. I am glad I didn't see this in the theater.

Anthony Trendl
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