After the initial shock and awe from watching this thing subsided, and it really was an awe inspiring piece of animation, I was left with one clear impression, and that was of a very good movie. However, it was too weighed down by formula and loose ends that led nowhere to be considered anywhere near a classic. This doesn’t put a damper on how easy it is to simply sit back and let yourself be taken in, but does lead to it being a lot more difficult to remember than you’d think.
How formulaic are we talking? A criminal racer, JP, who at least has the manliest hairdo in the universe, has just been let out of prison so he can race in the most prestigious circuit in the universe: The Redline. This course is on Robo World, a planet inhabited entirely by cyborgs, the president of whom objects to the Redline being held on his world. The different groups of racers must survive the treacherous course, and JP will undoubtedly win as the hero of the story. There’s also the mafia involved from the sidelines, a rebellion hatched to overthrow the Robo World government, obligatory romance, secret weapons, and more alien species than you can count. Seriously, this has to rival Star Wars for the number of different aliens present.
Despite being so steeped in cliché, it does so in an entirely authentic manner that makes it easy to overlook the plot’s shortcomings, of which there are many. All the characters that are supposed to be are indeed likeable, and it’s more than satisfactory to make one interested in the races and story… but comes just short of making the audience feel invested.
Despite the surprising focus on character interaction and the large number of principle cast members, nobody is capable of showing any depth beyond two dimensions. The hero is a cocky, abrasive, yet kindhearted person who eventually wins over the girl in the end. The girl has plenty of spunk, but doesn’t exhibit much more of a personality. The hero’s mentor is a jaded man in too deep with criminals who eventually sees the light at the end. None of these characters move past this, and it really limits their appeal.
While the plot is flimsy enough to topple when scrutinized with any weight heavier than a feather, it succeeds in driving (Pardon the pun) the events forward, and only occasionally starts to feel dull and predictable.
Nobody is really watching this for the plot though; they all heard that the animation is gorgeous and the racing fantastic, and both succeed way past expectations. From start to finish, there are no hiccups that I noticed in the animation, which can only be described as a superb blend. Compared to the superficially similarly styled Gurren Lagann, which was already a zany kind of coffee in of itself, it’s a concentrated espresso blend that tastes damn good. But from the same director as Samurai Champloo, that much is to be expected. The artwork is stylized, and can indeed be identified as anime, but it just goes beyond. As the official review on ANN put it, it’s animation for animation’s sake, and it’s quite a hoot to sit back and see how it’s employed.
The characters are some of the most varied in any movie, at least in appearance. You have little puffballs running around, hawking tickets for the Redline, cyborgs that don’t look like they’ve seen anything remotely human in a long while, and a reskinned expy of the Boiler Man from Spirited Away.
The sheer density of the film’s universe is enough to make it believable, even if the scope isn’t that large. Although the environments are lush and impeccably detailed, they don’t have much variety to them. Slums, deserts, and robot homeworlds do tend to meld together after enough time spent immersed in science fiction, after all. It’s all about the character designs and the racing however, so in both of those regards, Redline is perfect.
The racing does occasionally feel a bit drawn out, particularly for the last part of the film, but for the most part it’s well animated, fluid, and dare I say almost transcendent. If anybody reading this is unsure of the quality, find a way to watch the entire Yellow Line race. I know that I was left marveling at how much of an adrenaline rush it was, and was hooked for the rest of the almost two hour runtime. There isn’t anything to pick apart if you don’t look for it, but it’s undoubtedly shallow entertainment with what you’re given.
Of course, being a racing film set in the far future, there had to be an appropriate soundtrack attached; one that would complement the power of the racing and the oddity of the vehicles involved, or the calm of some more subdued scenes. Redline definitely has that soundtrack, obligatory cheesy ending song and all. The soundtrack doesn’t hold up much on its own, but it was almost vital to the electric pacing and sheer frenetic energy of many of the scenes.
In closing, Redline isn’t a perfect film. It’s a shallow prop, held up by snazzy visuals, goofy hair and the manliest of all sports not named curling. If you look to criticize it, you’ll find plenty to gnash your teeth on in the excuse plot, boring characters, and sometimes wearisome drama between the two main races. But really, it’s just concentrated entertainment, not intending to be anything else. Asking more of it just seems unfair.
Where it succeeds is the sheer fun factor- I haven’t seen anything this unabashedly entertaining, that lacked murderous Romanian twins anyway, since last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I think even this has that beat as far as having a good time is concerned. I’m not going to say that this is a movie that absolutely must be seen. You could go the rest of your life without seeing this, and you’ll likely be just as happy as the rest of us who have indulged.
But if you’re in the mood for something to get the adrenaline pumping and leave you with a big goofy smile, as it did to me, give Redline a try. It’s a unique experience that will leave you feeling satisfied and impressed, and I can think of no one that wouldn’t at least get a kick out of it.