The late 60s cartoon series Speed Racer (AKA Mach GoGoGo) was a ground breaker, becoming one of the first anime franchises to become popular in the United States and was even hailed by TV Guide as providing one of the most memorable moments in TV history. A new live-action screen adaptation of the series from the Wachowski Brothers breaks new ground in its visual presentation of the story, but I’m afraid, won’t be winning any awards for story.
Into the Wild’s Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer, a car crazy kid with enough natural driving ability to make him a superstar. When the flamboyant owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) offers him a place on his team the youngster is flattered but declines, opting to support his family’s business. Rebuffed and angered, Royalton, who Speed discovers fixes races, vows to destroy Speed’s career and bring down the family’s business. With the help of his parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon) and girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) Speed and the mysterious Racer X set out to rescue the family business and maybe even the sport of racing from the grips of evil gamblers like Royalton.
Visually Speed Racer is so over-the-top it makes other CGI movies like 300 and Spy Kids look as austere as a Bergman film. The Wachowskis have created something singular; a film unlike any other in which colors swirl, scenes transition in wild swoops of color and images and every frame is geared to pop your eyes out of their sockets. There are some undeniably cool visuals but they are so relentless it becomes overwhelming by the two hour mark.
For the cast fighting to be noticed over the film’s graphic design is a losing proposition. There are several intimate scenes in which Speed confides in his parents or girlfriend, but those scenes, meant to add some pace to the film and break up the wild action sequences, get lost in the general visual mêlée. These scenes don’t add much to the story, anyway. They have very little emotional heft and, even though they are performed by accomplished actors—Sarandon, Goodman, Hirsch and Ricci—feel stilted and unnatural, much like the look of the film.
Unlike the Wachowski’s previous films, Bound and The Matrix Trilogy, Speed Racer is geared to younger viewers. Tweens will likely find the art-directed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life look to be delicious eye candy and the races exciting in a surreal video game kind of way, while teens may relate to the Davy verses Goliath storyline—that’s Speed, the little guy who takes on the big bad corporation—but older viewers, however, may wish the Wachowskis had spent more time on the story and less on the visuals.
It’s true that Speed Racer looks cool. I’m just don’t think that alone makes it a good movie.