I Am Back and I Have Seen Speed Racer

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Sometimes I get to see movies early. The movie studios all have New York offices, and in those offices they have little plush screening rooms — baby movie theaters with nice sound and no popcorn — and sometimes they invite the press to come in and see movies early, partly in the hopes that we’ll write something about said movies, partly (I think) so they can watch us watching the movies and get our reactions. It can be quite weird. I can remember watching an early print of The Day After Tomorrow all by myself in an empty room. I think some part of me has never left that room.

So the other day (Friday) I watched Speed Racer with a bunch of other press people. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about it. But it’s not like I signed anything, so I will say this: it frickin’ rocked.

I was skeptical going in. The last couple Matrix movies were…uneven. And Speed Racer seemed like a slender vehicle (as it were) on which to launch a Wachowski brothers comeback. But this…this was amazing. Somehow they turned the stylized visual slang of Saturday morning Japanimation (and of video games, notably F-Zero X) into a whole rich visual cinematic language. By which I mean do you remember all that cool racing stuff in the trailer? The whole movie’s like that. Every square inch of every frame is just popping with crazy-weird visual detail. And at the risk of sounding like a movie reviewer at a small-town Fox affiliate, the action is relentless. It just don’t stop. It’s both hot and weirdly balletic and beautiful at the same time — cars whipping around turns and through constantly changing environments, all extruding gadgetry and spinning and flipping wildly sideways and end over end and such. Do you remember the stiff, half-hearted way that Ang Lee tried to incorporate the visual style of comics into The Hulk? This is the opposite of that. This is a language that the Wachowski brothers speak fluently.

I’m not going to talk about plot, but I just want to add that it’s very very funny. The Wachowski’s are completely hip to how goofy it is to make a movie out of Speed Racer, and they don’t apologize for any of it, they just run with it. I laughed my ass off. The actors play it completely straight: there’s a guy called Inspector Detector, and that’s just his name, and nobody apologizes for it. And somehow Emile Hirsch has figured out a way to make his mouth really tiny and straight like Speed’s was in the cartoon. He must have practiced that in a mirror.

In short, I came out of Speed Racer thinking exactly what I thought when I came out of The Matrix: that movie was exactly what I wanted it to be.

That trailer again, in blurry YouTube-o-vision: