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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.