Speed Racer

May 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman
Directed by: Andy and Larry Wachowski (“The Matrix”)
Written by: Andy and Larry Wachowski (“The Matrix”)

Apparently, Japanese influence in Hollywood doesn’t always have to come from remakes of the country’s eerie horror films like “Ju-On” or “Ringu.” Now, Japanese anime is the next genre to be translated into American-made films. We get our first mainstream taste of it with “Speed Racer,” based on the Japanese cartoon of the 1960’s.

Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski of “The Matrix” trilogy fame, “Speed Racer” is a psychedelic romp for little boys under 10 and off-road racers who are counting down the days when the Baja 1000 includes vehicles equipped with tire shredders for those drivers who get a bit to close. Sure, it’s much more fun than watching caution laps in NASCAR , but then what isn’t?

In “Speed Racer,” which is actually the name of our protagonist, Emile Hirsch (who was fantastic in last year’s “Into the Wild”) stars as the titular racecar-driving character. As the next big star on the track, everyone wants a piece of Speed, especially the corporations who want him to drop his family-run racing team (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play his loving parents; Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend) and sign up with them. The shadiest of the bunch is led by a scheming billionaire named Royalton (Roger Allam), who promises Speed the world if he signs on the dotted line.

When Speed refuses, however, Royalton makes it his personal mission to do anything in his power to keep him from ever crossing the finish line anywhere he decides to race. In steps a mysterious, masked racer known as Racer X (Matthew Fox, who doesn’t even seem to want to be part of the production in certain scenes) ready to team up with Speed and expose Royalton for the professional snake he really is.

Inundated with special effects (except for the humans and a chimpanzee named Chim Chim, everything is), the Wachowski brothers slam on the gas for “Speed Racer” and never let up. It might be a good thing for those of you who walk around with an IV pumping caffeine in your bloodstream 24-7, but for the rest of us the Tokyo drifting on a futuristic racetrack becomes overdone after a while.

Although the family dynamic keep the fluorescent film grounded at times, the script isn’t nearly as sensible as it needs to be to recommend to anyone outside its demographic. Of course, that’s not necessarily what the Wachowski brothers were going for. Its seems they wanted the silliness of the “Pows” and “Whams” of the old-school “Batman” TV series mixed with their own stylistic vision and a video-game feel (Mario Kart is the most obvious). At the end, it’s all one big bowl of colorful, soggy Trix. And who are Trix for boys and girls?

Penelope

February 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara
Directed by: Mark Palansky (debut)
Written by: Leslie Caveny (debut)

Beauty is in the eye of the be…Ah, who are we kidding? If you’re born with the face of a pig (unless your name is Babe), chances are you’re probably not going to be lucky in love.

So is the case for Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), a young woman who was born with swine-like features because of a curse that was cast on her wealthy family generations ago. Because of her snout and piggy ears, Penelope can’t seem to find a husband despite her high-strung mother (Catherine O’Hara) bringing gentleman callers to their home every night.

Her best chance at happiness comes in the form of Max (James McAvoy), a young man with a gambling problem who is smitten with Penelope’s charming personality. Still, Penelope has never been outside of her home and wants to find independence on her own. But with a cruel world out there, and a pool of reporters hoping to get the first photo of her (one is played by Peter Dinklage of the brilliant “The Station Agent”), can Penelope find her way around the real world without people noticing her unique façade before they know the girl inside?

It’s “Beauty and the Beast” vice versa in this awkwardly written and flat romantic comedy. No real chemistry is evident between Ricci and McAvoy and a needless cameo by Reese Witherspoon is thrown in to give more firepower to an already lackluster idea on female empowerment.