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Speed Racer

Engines race. Cool metal flashes past. In the trunk, hoping you don't notice until it's too late, a kid and a monkey scheme for more candy. Everything you could want in a Speed Racer movie is here, and then some. Dig deep enough, and there's even a message about passion transforming a hobby into art, and not letting corporations control such love. Your memory might have faded in its colors, but the Wachowski Brothers have brought it screaming back to vivid life, overstuffing and oversaturating the screen.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Speed Racer looks and feels like an anime brought to life, wild and gleefully illogical at a whim. Yet the filmmakers also try to pack a little too much into this one shot, creating a children's movie - yes, it's aimed at kids - that's admittedly about twenty minutes too long for its target audience.

They seem to know it, too. At various points in the film, the Wachowskis interrupt the exposition, nudging and apologizing to the kids that the fun has to be broken up by the spine of a story. Or maybe it's the other way around, as Speed (Emile Hirsch) gets caught up in a plot involving fixed races in order to control stock prices. You read that right. Not stock cars, stock prices.

That's a level of plotting the cartoon never bothered to have, though it's a logical conclusion to reach. In the world of Speed Racer, everything seems to revolve around racing. NASCAR could only wish it were this popular - or this bizarre. Every race track comes straight out of a kids' dream Hot Wheels set, with loop de loops, jumps and any obstacle you could have created in your living room.

To put hyperactive frosting on the cake, the Wachowski Brothers have developed the concept of "Car Fu." It's never called that in the movie, but the videogame dubs it such (Why, yes, we'd love to review that for the Wii...thank you...). Cars spin, grapple and throw each other. Where once the Mach 5 seemed unique in its ability to jump over other cars, it seems ever racer has the tools. That's okay, though, because onscreen it's just so darned cool, and all underscored by uplifting music from the original series.

Every turn on that track has an element to make me feel four years old, in a good way. The best there actually isn't a CG effect, but the presence of Matthew Fox as the mysterious masked Racer X. Fox captures the rhythms, scowls and even grunts of the character, never once winking at the audience.

That sincerity may be the greatest strength of Speed Racer. The Wachowski Brothers have filled in a bit of the back story that we took for granted watching the cartoon. The opening sequence is a dazzling collage of storytelling technique, shifting back and forth in time while combining green screen technology and traditional animation. Yet even through the pyrotechnics, the sequence stays focused on establishing the family dynamics of the Racer family and Speed's girlfriend Trixie (the perfectly cast Christina Ricci).

When you've got actors of the caliber of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, you ought to do something with them, and the Wachowskis do. Like Robert Rodriguez' Spy Kids, which gets completely blown away visually, this film is anchored by a believable family exuding almost palpable love, respect and in some places, pain.

Though the world these characters inhabit looks like somebody gave the Care Bears crack then had them assemble a city, it's always played straight. Kid brother(s) Spritle (Paulie Litt) and Chim Chim provide comic relief, but here it's clear that it's because they're in their own little world almost all of the time, like a lot of young kids. Somehow, the Wachowskis make that little world even more cartoonish than the rest of the film.

For everyone else, though, this is deadly serious. Hirsch, rapidly ascending to the throne of "finest actor of his generation," convinces us that racing is everything. The villains may strike us as comical, especially Snake Oiler (Christian Oliver), but to Racer X and Inspector Detector (Benno Furmann), they've had their corrupt grip on racing for too long.

Actually, it's not quite deadly serious, as the movie also establishes early on that all race cars have a safety feature that wraps drivers in bubbles and gently ejects them before their cars explode. Spectacularly.

Don't let that hurt your head. Nor should you try to do the math and figure out exactly when all this takes place. Though futuristic, the world of Speed Racer must be some parallel 1960's. It's also a grand mish-mash of cultures, a true melting pot that has all 64 Crayolas, plus the fluorescent crayon set.

It's a world worth visiting again and again, at least for some of us. Speed Racer is going to be too fast, too loud and literally too colorful for some people, and I'm not going to argue with them that they're wrong. But this movie made me feel like I was parked in front of the TV in my pajamas eating cereal. Wait, I still do that. Speed Racer made me feel four years old again, putting a grin on my face that I can't wait to see on my own son.

Derek McCaw

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