Film Friday: ‘Son of Rambow’, ‘Speed Racer’

by W. Andrew Powell

Son of Rambow

Bill Milner and Will Poulter in Son of Rambow

Don’t let that big, effects-driven action film steal your spending money this weekend, it’s nothing compared to what I have to call one of the year’s most original films. Son of Rambow falls into the quirky category that often gets far too little attention, despite having an original story to tell. Other new films include Speed Racer with its slow plot, the Hollywood comedy What Happens In Vegas, and a true Canadian drama, The Stone Angel.

Son of Rambow
If only there were more films as unique, engaging and funny as Son of Rambow.

Set in the early 80s when Rambo: First Blood was released, Son of Rambow is an endearing tale of two British children and their dreams of making their own “Rambow” movie. More than that though, the story tells how the two boys become the best of friends, despite their differences, and despite those who inadvertently get between their friendship.

Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a reserved, young man raised by his very religious mother, but when he meets bully Lee Carter (Will Poulter), Will finds himself with a true, albeit rough, friend. The two quickly decide to film their “Rambow” remake with Will as the impossible hero, doing his own stunts, while Lee films it all.

When their friends at school find out that they’re making a movie though, everyone wants to play a part, and the previously unknown Will is thrust into the spotlight, straining the boy’s friendship.

Son of Rambow is an engrossing, fresh film that’s a lot of fun, but it’s made truly enjoyable by its two stars. Writer and director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith, also known as Hammer and Tongs, do a fantastic job of making this film lively and inventive though. Despite their somewhat unimpressive Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Son of Rambow is a big surprise that will appeal to a wide range of audiences, perhaps most obviously on a sentimental note to the children of the 80s.

Speed Racer
If you liked The Matrix, will you like the Wachowski Brothers‘ latest film about a kid and his car? That question is likely a big one in the minds of marketing geniuses out there, but for movie fans it’s all a question of whether the film is cooler than Iron Man, last week’s big release.

Based on the Japenese anime series, Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer, a young man trying to save his family’s business after his brother dies in a cross-country car rally. To win the big race, make up for the death of his brother, and save the business, Speed will have to get to the bottom of cheating in the sport and overcome his corporate enemies.

With the original idea coming out of the 60s, and based on what is essentially a cheesy cartoon from yester-year, it’s hard to take the film seriously. Hirsch is a fantastic actor, as are co-stars Christina Ricci and Matthew Fox, but the concept and story seem lacking.

For original fans of the cartoon, this might also smell of Hollywood desperation for new ideas, but there might be some definite appeal for younger audiences who just want some eye-popping visuals. The Wachowski Brothers are well known for what they can pull off in the visual department, so that’s at least something the film has going for it.

Reviewers are happy enough with the visuals, as can be expected, but the story is otherwise a “drag” as one critic put it. “The fakeness of it all overwhelms, dampening any real excitement,” said Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s hard to care about characters so stiff and one-dimensional they out-cartoon the cartoon originals.”

Other new releases this week…

What Happens In Vegas
Cameron Diaz stars with Ashton Kutcher in what I can only describe as a lame comedy about two strangers who get married in Vegas and try to settle who gets their wedding winnings. As Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger put it so well, “It’s called What Happens in Vegas, but it should have been called What Happens in Hollywood as it pretty much defines contrived studio comedy.”

The Stone Angel
Margaret Laurence‘s seminal Canadian novel arrives on the big screen this weekend, with Ellen Burstyn playing the role of the fierce Hagar Shipley as she tries to reconcile her life. Christine Horne stars as the younger Hagar and the film also co-stars Dylan Baker and Sheila McCarthy. Reviewer Philip Marchand at the Toronto Star notes that the film fails somewhat in trying to update the story to the present day, but critics do agree that the performances by Burstyn and Horne are well played, even if the film isn’t ultimately satisfying.

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