Stop, Speed Racer, Stop

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It’s no secret that The Wachowski’s SPEED RACER is primed to be the summer’s first big FLOP. Nikki Finke explains:

The real problems plaguing this pic occurred not in the marketing but in the production. Oh heck, they started as far back as handing control of the project to the writer-director Wachowski siblings (since they’re no longer brothers). The Industry scuttlebutt is that Warner Bros Pictures Group prez Jeff Robinov, a one-time agent, gave way too much power to his former clients. Of course, the success of their Matrix franchise justified a certain degree of autonomy. But Robinov and for that matter his boss Alan Horn should have written into the contract that Speed Racer had to clock in at 90 to 100 minutes long — the average for kiddie pics these days — and not the absurd 2 hours, 15 minutes length it is now.


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Now we’d gladly sit through 2 hours (we think) of a SPEED RACER acid trip, which looks like nothing so much as playing an auto racing game. But most people wouldn’t. Movie Marketing Madness has more on how Warners dropped the ball

And right there I think you have a sense of how this movie is differing from most of the other tentpole releases this summer: It’s the only one that seems to be sublimating character for visuals. Iron Man, The Dark Knight, heck even The Incredible Hulk have all taken pains to make sure it’s the character every bit as much as the special effects that are drawing people in. I can’t help but think it’s this sterility in approach that’s contributing to the lack of buzz around the movie and its poor tracking. People are engaging with the characters that they’re seeing as more fully fleshed out rather than something that just looks wicked cool.

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Be that as it may we have every intention of going to see SPEED RACER. First off, it looks weird, even if it is dreadful. Second, the SPEED RACER cartoon was our first great love. We HAD to be home in time for Speed. We threw horrible tantrums when we missed it, and wore our vinyl-lined Speed-esque kiddie driving gloves until our mom had to just about cut them off our hands and they smelled like egg salad inside. So yeah there’s some nostalgia at play. But we just like Speed Racer.

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BONUS: the new Speed Racer cartoon debuted on Nick recently, and it was written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

Comments

  1. What is with the dogpile on this movie? (Not you, Heidi; all over the place.) There’s already markdowns on the toys and the flick hasn’t even come out yet.

    Maybe Hollywood wants the Wachowskis to tank?

  2. Whether it’s good or not, it’s officially the summer, and an eye-raping visual onslaught is just what the doctor ordered.

    And the casting is just fucking perfect.

  3. Patrick Wedge says:

    For the record, it is Justin Gray.

  4. I feel like I’m gonna have a seizure just looking at the stills.

  5. For what it’s worth, the few people I know who were able to see advanced previews of this have been raving about it, and all of them say “Every 9-year-old in America is going to totally flip out when they see this.”

  6. The only person I know who saw a screening walked out after an hour, actually, saying that the entire thing was just insufferable mugging, nobody even tried to act, there were far too many scenes with the monkey, and the action was like watching someone play a video game without playing yourself.

    But yes, I’m sure kids will go nuts for it. It seems to be the embodiment of an aesthetic that people over 25 find nauseating and people under 25 find perfectly natural.

  7. With all the people who have decided they hate it already, it has to be good.

  8. Torsten Adair says:

    The one review I read mentioned the visuals and the youth appeal. It was mixed. Sure, I’ll go see it. Hope I don’t have a Pokemon seizure.

    With many Summer blockbusters, critics forget the enjoyment children get from such stuff. I remember going straight from school to see Return of the Jedi when it opened. I loved Battlestar Galactica.

    It’s a racecar movie. Based on a cartoon (which never made it to the hinterland of Nebraska). Mindless entertainment. I predict it will be a close tie with Iron Man (the theater was PACKED Wednesday), with Prince Caspian getting respectable but not spectacular earnings.

    And to start an Internet flame war, I’m going over to one of the Otaku boards and posting “I think Wacky Racers is SO much better than Speed Racer.”

    35% (ouch) on Rottentomatoes.com

  9. It doesn’t look like anything I would ever want to watch. Which isn’t to say I would never watch a Speed Racer movie; just not this one.

    Honestly, my favorite part of the Speed mythos (if you want to call it that) was always Racer X, and if the best they can do for that is Matthew Fox, then no, I think I’ll just see Iron Man again.

  10. This movie is incredibly, incredibly incredible.

    It’s primed to flop because it comes out the week after Iron Man, but in a lot of ways it’s far superior. Iron Man was pretty great, but pretty great in a conventional way. Speed Racer is something entirely new, and any time Hollywood manages that, it’s something to be excited about.

    I’ve only spoken with one child–age five–who saw it, and he loved it, for what that’s worth.

    The passage quoted from “Movie Marketing Madness” kind of misses the point. The Hulk and Batman and the like are well-known, well-explored characters. Speed Racer, and his whole damn cast, are blank slates. His character is essentially “decent guy, drives cars well.”

  11. ~chris says:

    The Beat will love this comment from Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com: ‘… the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox, displaying fewer emotions than Jack on “Lost”)…’

  12. I enjoyed the Speed Racer movie quite a bit, although I had plenty of reservations with it. It is WAY too long, and the dramatic scenes drag a lot. Spritle is just about the most obnoxious kid in the world, and his scenes seem completely out of place with the rest of the movie. That being said, the movie is spectacular visually, and shot such that it isn’t nausea inducing in the slightest (for those worrying about that). Also, I liked quite a bit of the acting in the film, particularly John Goodman. And anyone who would rip on Matthew Fox for not showing enough emotion as Racer X obviously has no idea who Racer X is and why he’s so damn cool. =^) Speed Racer’s no Iron Man, but it’s a pretty fun flick all the same.

    That’s my summary, anyway. You can read my full review here: http://www.playbackstl.com/content/view/7600/160/

  13. michael says:

    I just saw Speed Racer and thought it was fun. I wasn’t expecting much since I didn’t really like the Matrix trilogy but this was pretty much what I expected. Great visuals with a not so great story. It did have more humor than I would have guessed though and that was nice.

  14. Alan Coil says:

    Chris said:

    “The only person I know who saw a screening walked out after an hour, actually, saying that the entire thing was just insufferable mugging, nobody even tried to act, there were far too many scenes with the monkey…”

    Actually, there aren’t many scenes with the chimpanzee early in the movie. The person you know didn’t see the movie I JUST SAW. (Note that a chimpanzee is not a monkey.)

    No spoilers here, but the movie is true to the cartoon, and a very good movie. Mugging, if one could actually call it that, was in line with the cartoon.

    And it sure didn’t seem like 2 hours, 15 minutes in length.

  15. Alan Coil says:

    Caleb said:

    “This movie is incredibly, incredibly incredible.

    It’s primed to flop because it comes out the week after Iron Man, but in a lot of ways it’s far superior.”

    I, too, thought it was better than Iron Man. Not by a lot, but better. Both are predictable if you know the history. The climax of Speed Racer is better than the climax of Iron Man.

  16. Alan Coil says:

    Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com didn’t like this movie. He deserves a Chim Chim cookie.

  17. I like Chim Chim.

  18. I saw this movie today and loved it! I don’t know what is causing so much hatred. It’s a movie based on a 1960 Japanese cartoon dubbed in Mexico not an adaptation of Mice and Men. Go see it with an open mind and reasonable expectations.

  19. I’m supposed to take a few kids to this thing tomorrow and now I’m dreading it. 2 Hours and 15 minutes? And jeez, it’s got 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. There goes my Sunday.

  20. I just got back from this movie. OH MY GOD it was great! It is the cartoon in all it’s goofiness and style.

  21. When I look at “Speed” I see Jack Black in a helmet. And I laugh.

  22. The movie is true to the cartoon, probably more so than almost any other cartoon based movie I can think of. You don’t go to this movie to see the acting or the plot, and if you try to compare this movie to any other movie going experience, you’ve pretty much stabbed your inner child.

    The movie is made for kids, first and last. It really IS a live action cartoon. Yes, boring in parts, and Spritle(sp?) is the JarJarBinks of this piece, but overall, it’s a visual acid trip, heavy on the color red.

    The message of the plot is pretty much a strong dig at NASCAR, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about that so far.

    Yes, it’s long, it’s garish, and it’s loud. It’s a bit inappropriate for small kids, because Spritle isn’t exactly a role model — and as a student, neither is Speed. So technically, it’s not fantastic family movie going fare. But, since there’s not another “Amazing Journey of Three Pets Traveling Across Colorado” movie, this is the one to take the kiddies to.

    I enjoyed this movie, but I enjoyed the original cartoon, so I’m prejudiced.

  23. Seeing as I’m 15, I really don’t have any prejudice about the cartoon. I thought it was awesome, with the special effects and all, and I was only slightly annoyed by some of the not-racing scenes. It didn’t feel that long, but that may have been because of the ridiculous amounts of adrenaline shooting through my legs. I would see it again, maybe even before I saw Iron Man (haven’t seen it yet) ANd let me be proof that this movie isn’t just for 9 year olds -.-

  24. Henrik J says:

    I actually think this movie looks good, i never liked the cartoon, but the visuals for this thing just look really really cool

  25. SpeedRacerSlowDown! says:

    I can guarantee you that this is one of the best movies of 2008. I can say that watching this movie on psylocibin mushrooms is one of the most amazing experiences. The special effects and special animation done in this movie to make a completely different world than it is in reality is phenomenal. I strongly recommend this movie be watched, especially so on ‘shrooms. As a youth i watched speed racer as a cartoon and can definately see certain similarities that have been more developed into the special animation and storyline.
    AN EXCELLENT MOVIE!

  26. Very insightful.
    Y’know, I’ve heard that if you watch “Elektra” on Peyote, it’s better than “Citizen Kane.”

  27. inhumans99 says:

    From Box Office Mojo’s Friday Esitmate: $5,850,000. Now this has to hurt, What Happens In Vegas’ Friday Estimtate: $6,700,000.

    It is well and good that many folks think Speed Racer is the best movie of 2008 so far or better than Iron Man (okay…)!?!, however, I suspect this news gives the financiers behind Speed Racer small comfort.

    Note, I am not ragging on the film, beause I simply have no desire to see it…did not grow up watching Speed Racer (I am 36, if anyone is curious or cares), just pointing out that folks in Hollywood were probably hoping that a film with Ashton Kutcher would not outgross Speed Racer this weekend.

    And other than the running time being a concern for folks that have to hope their kids can pay attention and stay in their seat for over two hours, resisting the urge to run around the theater like a rampaging wildebeast, we know that films that are over 2 hours can, and often do make gobs of money when they come out around this time of year (heck, Iron Man’s running-time is only approx. 10m less than Speed Racer’s), so the only thing hurting this film is that maybe, just maybe, most critics are not out of touch, and are reflecting the will of the people who were not given a reason to plan a weekend around seeing this movie.

    Speed Racer strikes me as a ‘niche’ film in the truest sense of the word, one with no major crossover appeal, to be seen by those who were going to see the film regardless of what critics have to say about this film (such as hardcore fans who actually grew up watching the cartoon).

    I will probably still Netflix it, after all, I will soon own an HD TV, and an upconverting player, so it should look good even on the ‘small screen.’

  28. jon bonce says:

    Lame movie just like the lame cartoon!

  29. Alan Coil says:

    And a Chim Chim cookie for jon bonce.

  30. Bring Back Zot says:

    I just saw it tonight with two 11 year old boys. We all absolutely LOVED it. The racing sequences are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, the plot is good enough, and the acting was just fine. The Wachowski’s obviously love the source material, and did their best to combine their “Matrix” sensibilities with the original anime. I don’t care how it does at the box office. This is a wonderful film, that should really be seen in theatres. It won’t look anywhere near as good on the small screen. We’re going again soon.

  31. I’m going tomorrow, but only because I *love* the Speed Racer cartoon. I’ve been seriously dreading seeing this movie for a while. But, Alan Coil’s a pretty smart guy, and if he likes it, then maybe it’s good? I’m optimistic now, anyway.

  32. I saw it with an audience in San Diego.

    San Diego audiences never cheer a movie.

    They cheered Speed Racer.

    It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s worth the price of admission.

    Joe Bob says, “Check it out.”

  33. Murph says:

    The Speed Racer Movie was great! They should consider making this a cartoon series for TV!

  34. Unpopular says:

    I’d rather see a film of pod races from Star Wars: Episode I.

    Seriously though, every time I see the Speed Racer trailer I get jazzed up to see the film, but five minutes later I’ve lost that feeling unlike with Iron Man. Speed Racer: the chinese food of cinema.

  35. Capper says:

    My expectations were lowered by the critical reviews, but I actually enjoyed the movie. It isn’t nearly as good as Iron Man, and it is geared much more for kids, but for I thought it was a good kids movie. It looked absolutely fantastic. Even though the story and the characters were weak, I didn’t mind. Kids should like Spritle and Chim Chim and have a good time. The best part was, after all the credits, Ultimate Nick Fury asked Speed to be part of the Avengers!

  36. >>The best part was, after all the credits, Ultimate Nick Fury asked Speed to be part of the Avengers!

  37. I thought Speed Racer was terrific! It was family friendly, funny, and I was not bothered by the racing scenes despite being anti-car chase in general . (I HATED the Pod Racer Star Wars thing.)

    Spritle was hilarious and I laughed out loud several times at his and Chim Chim’s cartoony deliveries. It’s in every way a cartoon movie…like Popeye or Dick Tracy …but very well designed. It’s not theme park design..it’s mod…it’s retro future…and today. The details are beautiful.

    I started reading reviews after watching the film on Friday and found the critical reception ridiculous. They all dug into the Wachowski’s or the classic cartoon..the context was a killer on this film…they would not let it be a family movie. A kid’s movie. They wanted retribution for the Matrix 2 and 3.

    Speed Racer is very very good. Go watch it. Then tell a friend.

  38. And another thing! The critics are ripping on Speed for being shallow and one dimensional.

    The movies starts with him failing a test and a teacher saying “all he talks about…all he seems capable of thinking about..is racing cars.”

    Speed Racer in this film is futuristic white trash. Embrace it…he races cars fast, has since he was a child, grew up in a family of mechanics, and now he’s the best. He missed piano lessons and isn’t going to talk politics. He doesn’t want to sign contracts with major sponsors because daddy says they’re the devil. This film IS character driven, only the character isn’t aspirational..but he’s absolutely respectable.

  39. This looks like it’s Mario Kart: The Movie.

    And I’m definitely down for something like that.

  40. Randall Kirby says:

    I liked it a lot. I thought the family dynamic was fun.
    I can see some folks not liking it. The movie isn’t just based on a cartoon. it is a cartoon. Some folks just don’t dig cartoons.

  41. Alan Coil says:

    “Some folks just don’t dig cartoons.”

    And a baker’s dozen of Chim Chim cookies for them!

  42. I’m sensing more of that 14 year old I’M TOO COOL FOR THIS KID STUFF vibe off the negative reviews than any real criticism of what the film accomplished. I took my younger sister and had a flipping BLAST. I seriously had to consciously keep myself from yelling out GO SPEED GO during the Grand Prix.

  43. we liked it (ok, my 5 year old son and I loved it, daughter liked it, wife was ok with it). It was a kids movie, nothing more. It really embodied the vibe of the old series, hence the mugging.

  44. i really loved this movie. I think I enjoyed it more than Iron Man. I liked IM a lot, but the action scenes and story all felt very familiar. Speed Racer exists in a world that I’ve never seen on film before.

    So there’s zero chance of there being a sequel, right?

  45. The other studios are crying foul on Warner’s $20 million estimate for SPEED RACER:
    http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/what-a-disaster-speed-racer-20m-weekend-half-what-warner-bros-hoped-overseas-take-dismal-too/
    Looks like SPEED will actually come in THIRD place, with second place going to WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS. Of course everything was thoroughly trounced by IRON MAN, which made $50.5 million in its *second* weekend.

    Yeah, I wouldn’t count on a sequel.

  46. Scott Neely says:

    I just got back from seeing Speed Racer at the 10:30pm show. I couldn’t believe the shitty reviews and how little money it made this weekend so I was curious as to what was perceived to be wrong with it. I went into it with an open mind (as I did the same with the Cat In The Hat and found that everyone was in fact right. Cat In The Hat sucked dog balls).

    Speed Racer, however, blew me away by the entertainment value! It was a visual orgy and feast for the eyes in large spots but slowed down to give some nice exposition. Racer X was way cool and the twist at the end of it for his character was great. Fuck the critics! This was WAY BETTER than Iron Man could have hoped to have been in my eyes. Iron Man was great but Speed was at least 10 times more fun and WAY more enjoyable! The story is a typical one and you’ve been there before but the ride was much more fun. I could have sat through it again, which I didn’t want to do with Iron Man…at least not for a while.

    Go see it with an open mind and I think a lot of people will enjoy it on here. The time length for it sure didn’t see like a 2 hour and 15 minute movie…the best part is the super cool race in the middle. The Casa Cristo 500 race as it featured the Mach 5 in all it’s glory. The Brothers have made up for the Matrix 2 and 3 in my eyes.

    I want SPEED RACER 2!!!!

  47. Scott Neely says:

    Also have to mention that I did see the new cartoon version that Palmiotti and Gray were behind and that sucked ass. Don’t waste your time watching that. It reeked of that lame factor that plaqued the mid 90′s updated version. Or was that the early 90′s? It didn’t last long so I may be off on the timeline…

  48. I’m sensing more of that 14 year old I’M TOO COOL FOR THIS KID STUFF vibe off the negative reviews than any real criticism of what the film accomplished.

    And yet, moviegoing audiences have proven their willingness to support films that critics have hated in the past, but as the weekend numbers show, they’re not doing so with Speed Racer. So, at the very least, I think this proves that something is wrong here, that goes well beyond “WAHHH TEH CRITICS ARE BEING BULLIES!!!111ELEVENTY-ONE”

    Then again, I always hated the original Speed Racer cartoon, even though I loved about 90 percent of the imported Japanese cartoons from that era (Speed Racer struck me as being the most bargain-basement and patronizing of them all, even when I was in grade school), so I had no interest in seeing this movie anyway.

    With any luck, this will prevent the planned Amerizanized live-action version of Akira from ever being made. Akira deserves better.

  49. This movie is NOT for children. The plot is way too convoluted, geared for adults that remember the cartoon and is too long. The Spritle kid is vomit-inducing and when he flicks off a character, you realize your kids are being exposed to lackluster thinking and events you spend a lifetime shielding your young kids from. I have no idea why these brothers think we all need to see a movie at lightning speed. After Matrix, the rest of that series went berserk in stupid plot lines and Keanu going “woa”. They do nothing to change that image here. I dare anyone to recite a two lines in a row that Emile Hirsch stated from the script. See? Forgettable. Wait for the cartoon-it’s way better

  50. Alan Coil says:

    D00D, Keanu never went “Woa”. It was “Whoa”.

    And you can’t protect your kids forever. Perhaps they’ve already seen people “flicked” off. Also, it was so brief, some kids never saw it.

  51. Sadly, my kids have already seen people flicked off. After all, they ride around in the car with me. I know this makes me a bad parent.

    I have already begun shopping for our very own family chim-chim :)

  52. With the way Pops handled that ninja – I’m surprised that Ultimate Nick Fury didn’t offer the Avengers gig to him, or at least Chim Chim.

    ~

    Coat

  53. I loved the cartoon, loved the movie. I will be buying the DVD the second it comes out. So many cartoons an comics Hollywood has butchered, I am not saying they got this move right, although I really don’t think they got it wrong.

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