Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Speed Racer" - non-spoiler movie review

There are times when I look at the box office results for a movie, and I don't understand or don't agree when a film fails to capture an audience. "Charlie Bartlett" is a good example of this - great little film, but to date, the domestic box office gross is just under $4 million. This film should be right up there with the likes of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". But for some reason, it just didn't find an audience.

And then other times, the box office is the perfect manifestation of a film. "Speed Racer" was released a little over a week ago, and the big-budget mega-movie with the full power of Warner Bros.' marketing team and money has so far managed a domestic gross of ... slightly over $30 million. Its opening weekend gross was a whopping $18.5 million, down from the $20 million that Warner Bros. had purposely over-estimated for the weekend, putting the film third behind fellow new release "What Happens in Vegas", which came in second that same weekend with a gross of $20.1 million. Well, it was Mother's Day weekend, and people didn't want to go to the movies. Ummm, that might be an excuse except that "Iron Man" raked in another $51.1 million in its second week of release that same non-movie-going weekend.

Having finally seen the film this past weekend, I completely understand why the public stayed away in droves.

The story wasn't bad - except for a few bits, it was actually decently thought out and interesting. (One part I hated is towards the end of the film when Speed is remembering some of the things that various people have said to him, all of which prove to be the inspiration to do his best. Having the audio playing of the other people while you show his face soaking it in is fine. But we really didn't need to actually *see* those scenes again. Yeah, umm, some of those were scenes that we just saw a few minutes ago. Was the repeat of the scenes for the benefit of those with really short attention spans? Because otherwise, it was entirely a "beat you over the head with a really big hammer to get the point across" moment.) The acting wasn't bad - as a matter of fact, Susan Sarandon gave a wonderful performance as Speed Racer's mother, and she had a couple of really stand-out scenes. The special effects weren't bad - I'm presuming the forty million effects houses (including ILM) did exactly what they were contracted to do, and you can see their handiwork in just about every second of the film.

Now, I am familiar with the original television show - I remember watching it in the afternoon all the time, though I can't tell you that I remember much about it now. I remember the car, and I remember it could jump and do cool stuff. Can't tell you a thing about what the story was or anything else about the show. Given that I haven't seen the show in many, many, many, and I mean *LOTS* of years, it's possible that I wouldn't enjoy the show now. Maybe it had something to do with my being a kid when I watched it. Maybe it had something to do with it being animated, so I would allow for more things from an animated product than I do a live-action one. Maybe it has to do with the fact that with technology and special effects being what they are now, I think it was entirely possible to pull off all the cool action sequences and still have it look great, instead of having it be a mishmash and cartoony. Whatever the reason, there were many aspects of the film which really bugged me, though I'm told they're true to the television show. I guess having a monkey in the family in an animated show when I was a kid was one thing, but I could not get over it in the film. (And yeah, gotta throw in that obligatory poop joke for those with an IQ of 4.) And the little brother was just entirely too annoying, too "posing" and campy and obvious.

I think the thing that annoyed me the most about the film, though, was that the filmmakers (and really, I blame the directors - both of them) decided to go for style over substance. Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did exaggerated primary colors and made everything specifically look fake so that you can point out all the special effects layered shots? Sorry, it didn't work for me AT ALL. And what makes me most angry about that is that I could have really gotten into the movie, really gotten invested in the characters and the story they were telling, but every time they pulled a stylistic move, it just ripped me out of the story, and to me, it really destroyed the performances being given by the actors. As I mentioned, Susan Sarandon comes off pretty well because her important scenes are done straight without the "look what I can do with the camera and editing and CGI" crap. Matthew Fox as mysterious Racer X has a few of those moments as well. I can't really tell you how I feel about Emile Hirsch as Speed. His performance was so chopped up that I can't give an opinion on it. I've not seen the other things he's done, so maybe he'll be in something that I'll see sometime where I can actually tell what kind of performance he put in. I generally liked Christina Ricci in this film, though there were a couple of tiny bits that I thought were entirely too cutesy.

About the only thing I couldn't decide was whether I was more annoyed at the movie or at the stupid woman sitting in the front section who had decided to bring her two small children to this film, including a little boy who was hyper and wanted to talk and scream and laugh and run around in the theatre. And he did. And what did supermom do? Shush him loudly. (Yeah, that helps.) And watch him run around in front of the first row of seats, laughing. Both of the kids were both too old to be sleeping through the movie and too young to be sitting patiently and quietly through the movie. This is not a children's movie where you expect a lot of little kids in the theatre, being restless and making noise. I don't care if you can't find a babysitter. Then you don't get to see this film in the theatre. Your kids don't belong here, so NEITHER DO YOU. Take your rude selfish self out of the theatre and take the kids with you. Nice that you're so frickin' important that you figure it's ok to ruin other people's movie-going experience if that's what works best for you.

Maybe I should have hired ILM to rotoscope her and the kids out of the theatre.

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