Redline – Film Review
Director: Takeshi Koike
Starring: Takuya Kimura, Yu Aoi and Tadanobu Asano
Released: Oct 2010
Remember the Wacky Races? That bizarre creation from Hannah Barbara that had colourful characters racing against each other at *cough* high speed? Generally for the sake of comic effect, it had a primarily child audience?
If you don’t, no matter.
The only reason it is in any way relevant is because Redline, despite a semi similar concept, is nothing like it. It’s more mature, it’s intense and, with a high emphasis on style, it is cool!
In the distant future, hover engine technology is the optimum form of transport. However, a widespread group of rebels still find thrills in drag racing, with Redline being the highest ranking race in which drivers can qualify.
Despite losing to talented driver Sonoshee (Aoi) in the Yellowline, down-on-his-luck racer ‘Sweet’ JP (Kimura) manages to qualify for the Redline. This year’s race takes place on Roboworld, a planet ruled by aggressive cyborgs. Fearing that their military secrets are under threat of being discovered by racing spectators, they are willing to exact extreme force to ensure the competition comes to a swift and brutal end.
For better or worse, the main thing that Redline has going for it is speed. When the animation itself gets warped almost beyond recognition, you know you’re dealing with serious acceleration! Not even a minute into the film, we are treated with an explosive spectacle of a race. Not restricted simply to the racetrack, vehicles spiral out of control, dashing between the wheels of other racers, through water and air. Many racers have gadgets or weapons to give them an edge, JP has a nitro boost mechanic built into his car that, when used, really gets the adrenaline pumping. The soundtrack is suitably enthusiastic, totally serving to get the audience on the edge of their seats. Tension rises as two cars reach the race line for a photo finish, both drivers locking eyes and sharing a brief moment in their driver seats before an almighty explosion announces the race end.
And funnily enough, that’s it. With the initial race over, everyone takes a breather for the entire film. It should come as a relief after tensions have run so high, but these more relaxed moments are unfortunately plagued with a number of problems that have you longing for some cheap thrills.
We see the world through the eyes of JP, and his character isn’t particularly interesting. His dress sense and body language scream ‘bad-boy’, but his reputation for being ‘sweet’ quickly becomes clear. He is the unquestionable hero, though his motivation for this is hazy at best, completely unexplained at worst. A number of blurry flashbacks hint at an idol he had as a child (who remains anonymous but comes across as stupidly arrogant) and also at the relationship he shares with Sonshee.
Sonshee has a semi interesting back-story as a racer, but her character quickly disintegrates into stereotypical love interest, the kind that has been seen time and time again in any film. She is likeable enough, but more focus on her as an independent character would have really helped to make her more endearing and relatable. Her relationship with JP feels forced, a way to simply fill the gaps between the two races that bookend the film.
The relationship JP shares with his alien mechanic, Frisbee (Asano) is far more interesting. Frisbee comes across as shady at first, and a morally grey character later. He has been partnered with JP for years but unfortunately gets mixed up with the mafia in order to afford better parts for JP’s vehicle. Their past is troubled and complex, with Frisbee fixing a number of races at JP’s expense. His motives are constantly called into question and one of the few areas in the second act that will arouse interest.
Withholding information works in this particular respect, but Redline unfortunately skims over a great deal in an attempt to maintain momentum. The alien worlds and races are introduced far too casually to be taken in any way seriously. Their presence is explained simply by the fact that ‘This is the future, there are aliens, deal with it.’ The character designs are interesting and few creations resemble each other, which is admittedly impressive. However, these introductory scenes lack subtlety and structure. In one scene, JP lays in a patch of heather, gazing up at three half moons in the night sky. More pensive scenes like this, which allow the audience to breath in and reflect on the alien world, would have benefitted Redline immensely.
Luckily, where the film is lacking in terms of subtlety, it makes up for in style. When we do finally arrive at adrenaline fuelled third act, it is with massive aplomb. Drivers enter the Redline race by having their cars dropped from the atmosphere onto the planet surface. They race down a cliff face, avoiding natural dangers, other racers and of course, the cyborg army that are attempting to obliterate them.
The cyborgs are, again, as stereotypical a group of villains as they come. Every scene in the Presidents headquarters is accompanied with ominous organ music, the kind that is synonymous with Count Dracula. The President is obnoxious, stubborn and spoiled, whereas Colonel Volton, his right hand man, is irrepressibly cold and sinister. A red flag in the background boasts what appears to be a distorted swastika, an almost subtle but wholly unnecessary implication of the sheer malevolence of the cyborg race. They are simple, shallow and totally one-dimensional characters and yet, for the purpose of antagonists, they are functional.
While the villains’ flaws are blatantly apparent in the slow second act, the fact that they want to destroy the Redline racers is all the audience needs to know in the intense finale. At this point in the film, complications are an unwelcome addition to the narrative. It is more than enough to know that, while we root for JP to win, he has more to worry about than crossing the finish line. Racers take different routes and encounter different obstacles, but each one is intensely action packed and exciting. This is emphasized further with the reveal of one of the cyborg military secrets that, while a blatantly obvious Red Herring, adds to the surreal nature of the film.
The animation itself parallels the tone of the film, in that it favours style over subtlety. Characters don’t have noticeable expressions, unless they are fuelled with phenomenal rage or excitement. There is a great deal of detail in the likes of the lunar restaurant or racing stadiums, but the designs aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as they could be. The only animation sequences that truly impress, as with the narrative, occur when our heroes are racing. Features become distorted in accordance with the rush of adrenaline, veins bulge in eyes and foreheads and, again, explosions!
Redline suffers from a number of plot issues, lacking considerably in terms of subtlety and intelligence. Character relationships are either predictable and forced or simply rushed in an attempt to retain momentum. It fails in this, giving the feature a severe lull in the second act that is sorely emphasized by its action packed opening. Luckily, it just about saves itself in its flashy finish, with racers reaching almost supersonic speeds on a ridiculous racetrack that it as much vertical as it is horizontal. A bit of a slog at times, Redline rewards audiences that stick with it until the end.
“Once I’m behind the wheel, I’m the boss” – JP
Written by Stephen Hill