x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Speed Racer

The colours pop like a DayGlo dream, which, soon enough, becomes a kind of swirling, agitated, cotton-candy nightmare, as if there is something disquieting you from the corner of the frame.

Road to nowhere: The character Speed, played by Emile Hirsch, takes a corrupt corporation for a ride in <i>Speed Racer</i>.
Road to nowhere: The character Speed, played by Emile Hirsch, takes a corrupt corporation for a ride in Speed Racer.


Quite where Speed Racer fits into the Wachowski brothers' cinematic output, I'm not too sure. Is it a child's eye transposition of the good versus evil cliché that was deemed basis enough for two Matrix sequels? Or just an oddity, a throwaway, colouring book moment?

Let's just say it falls somewhere on the PG-side of the shocker crime-caper Bound and the tough justice of the Matrix trilogy, a place where plastic surgery, profiteering and foul play have been modified for the tween set, and shot-reverse-shot film grammar is cast off in favour of unworkable zooms. The film's plotline is as adrenalised - and, surely, Ritalin-addled - as its eponymous protagonist. Foremost a revenge narrative, it follows Speed's (Into the Wild's Emile Hirsch) pursuit of sporting integrity on the race car circuit as he takes on the corrupt conglomerate corporation to save the Racer family's, well, racing pedigree.

Speed teams up with his girlfriend Trixie (a doll-like Christina Ricci), his one-time rival, Racer X (Matthew Fox - a wonder that he even caught a break from his incessant contract with television's Lost), and the dubious Japanese racer Taejo Togokhan (the bona-fide popstar Rain) to enter The Crucible rally and uncover the betrayals of big business. Not so much the stuff of boy's own adventures then, but a marketing man's jittery fantasy.

Yet, in among this turbocharged tangle, there is a curious one-dimensionality to the proceedings, which could just be an extension of Speed Racer's flat computer generated canvas begging for Imax projection, but is more likely a case of the 1960s Japanese anime source material being lost in translation. Then again, this is not a film to which you go for narrative insight. To whitewash this Skittles-themed party with such broad brushstrokes would be to slate in vain. For Speed Racer was meant as a sugar rush of a film. The colours pop like a DayGlo dream, which, soon enough, becomes a kind of swirling, agitated, cotton-candy nightmare, as if there is something disquieting you from the corner of the frame, though you're not too sure why you suddenly feel all unsteady.

And there is something to be said for David Tattersall's immaculately colour-constructed photography. Freeze frame the DVD at any given moment and be rewarded with a whole comic-book's worth of print dye that has compressed and transferred well for television screening: bright oranges, electric blues, floral fuchsias that float and fly and form heart-shapes. At the centre of this garish universe is Emile Hirsch, who throws himself into a very different sort of wild here. Following up last season's mesmerising, award-nominated turn, he proves he's just as worthy an action hero: fronting one of the first blockbusters of the summer with a figurine's poise isn't an easy thing to do.

But I think I'll take the old advice from now on, for it's true what they say: there is such a thing as too much of a good thing where sugary sweetness is concerned.
@email:afeshareki@thenational.ae