I saw two movies this weekend. On Friday, I saw on video MICHAEL CLAYTON, an engrossing drama about a man who stands neutral in the face of evil until circumstances force him to take sides. Today, I saw SPEED RACER, an engrossing drama about a man who shifts from neutral when circumstances force him to drive through psychedelic backgrounds.
I mock, but I truly enjoyed SPEED, even thrown up onto the humongous Imax screen. Granted, there is a perversity of Antoinette-like proportions in spending umpteen millions of dollars to replicate in live-action the look of cheap animation. But against odds, the Watchowski Brothers' directorial follow-up to the MATRIX movies has a lot of heart -- which it wears on its sleeve in an entirely straight-faced way that is rather refreshing in an era of ironic distance. The film benefits tremendously from excellent performances by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon as the Racer 'rents, as well as Cristina Ricci as a Trixie who brightens up the screen (and that's saying something) everytime she appears. Emile Hirsch does a decent job as Speed, whose moral compass is always oriented even if his intelligence is somewhat limited; and Matthew Fox manages a few knowing glances (when he's not masked) as Racer X that communicate more than his laconic lines.
As for the visuals, much derided by critics: Well, sue me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps because I was weaned on the op-art of the '60's, the eye-stabbing colors and the baroque backgrounds looked great. They reminded me of Jim Steranko's experiments in comic-book art. I have to admit that they often fail to serve the story (did we really need a zoetrope of a galloping zebra lining the walls of a racetrack?), but they never grew tiresome for me.
As things stand, the film will likely never amount to much on the big screen (it's projected to gross about $20 million in its opening weekend, whereas IRON MAN is on track to pull in another $50 million); but I've no doubt that it will pay off its investors through merchandising, home video, and foreign releases.
The latter raises an interesting question: When SPEED RACER is released in Japan, will the translators keep the names imposed by American licensors; or will Speed revert to his Japanese identity as Go Mifune, and the title to MACHGOGOGO?