Patron Request: ‘Redline’

Perhaps my expectations were skewed, but I was sort of expecting more racing in this movie about a big race. For all the discussion I’d heard about Redline and its bold art style and its experimental animation, I found that its narrative plays things far too safe. So much of the film’s runtime is taken up by a plodding second act, where the characters do little except hang around and wait for the race to start. While the alien designs and bizarre sci-fi cultures are amusing and cool, it’s not quite enough to buoy such an extended section. I wanted a thrill ride that never stopped to breathe. I got something far more restrained than I was promised.

Even once the eponymous race begins, the film keeps cutting away to military war rooms and enemy soldiers, breaking up the tension of the competition so severely that it doesn’t even seem to matter until the final minutes. I know that this film was made in a pre-Mad Max: Fury Road world, but it’s disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t feel confident enough to just make a 90-minute race sequence. When the film does focus entirely on racing, it’s exhilarating. The way the animation bends and stretches around the incredible speed of the drivers, suggesting that even an entirely hand-made visual medium strains to depict them, is outstanding.

It does lack the specificity of expressionism in the Wachowski Sisters’ Speed Racer, its most obvious contemporary. That film’s experiments feel more deliberate, an explicit attempt at something rather than Redline’s more freeform style. I prefer Speed Racer by a wide margin, but I can’t criticize Redline for thinking outside the box. I just wish they’d thought a little further.

Still, there’s so much to like about this film. I already mentioned the design work, and it’s probably my favorite aspect. The film’s imagination seems limitless, unshackled by any kind of consistent sci-fi aesthetic. Aliens in Redline can look like anything. I so admire the creative freedom on display in this film. While I’m not entirely in love with the art style, the designs are tremendous.

I so wish I could be fully on board with Redline. It’s a hair’s breadth away from being a movie I could unreservedly love. There are certainly bits and pieces that I feel that way about. As a whole, though, there’s too much dragging the film down, too much fat untrimmed. There’s much to admire in Redline. It’s a shame that the whole film isn’t one of those things.

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