Speed Racer is a movie to experience, not just a movie to watch. It’s a complete package with campy humor, thrilling action sequences, and emotional dramatics – all delivered through the unparalleled visual style of The Wachowski Brothers. It’s too bad that ‘Eye Candy’ has become such a cliche, because nothing comes close to matching the dextrose-covered, primary-colored, hard-candy shell that glosses over the entire look of the world of Speed Racer. It’s gorgeous but never overbearing enough to give the audience a stomach ache. It’s the closest a movie has come to being a live-action cartoon, but there’s more reasons to see this film than just the visual brilliance.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has grown up in the family passion of racing. His father Pops (John Goodman), his mother (Susan Sarandon) and his brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter) surround him with the world of the garage and racetrack. After Rex has a fatal accident, Speed hops into the driver’s seat and starts to gain fame. But with that fame, he catches the eye of corporate mogul and race-fixer Royalton (Roger Allam). When Speed refuses to race for him, Royalton sets to ruining the Racer family name, and Speed has to step up to win the prestigious Grand Prixe and expose the major sponsors as crooks and frauds.
The Wachiowski Brothers nail this one. Whether you’re a great fan of the original cartoon or have never heard of it, the brilliant writer/directors deliver a great story to stand out from the epically beautiful palette they’ve created. The movie succeeds in a major way because it made me feel like a kid again. Sitting in the theater was almost like sitting on the floor with my television and a bowl of Super Sugar Pops in front of me.
The casting is pitch perfect, which is a major factor, because every character plays a large part of making the film what it is. There’s a genuine connection between Goodman, Sarandon and Hirsch that makes the message of the importance and closeness of family stand out even more. Paulie Litt (Spritle) and a seemingly uncredited chimpanzee that plays Chim-Chim, in what could have been a highly distracting pair of characters, instead, steal scenes with grace and slapstick, breaking up the tension at just the right moments. Christina Ricci is sweet whether flashing a pearl-white smile or covered in mechanical grease – holding her own as a romantic match and as a hard-driving racer who steps in to save the day herself. Roger Allam (who fans will remember as the megalomaniacal Lewis Prothero in The Wachowski’s V for Vendetta) is deplorable as the villain, and Matthew Fox is as heroic and enigmatic a Racer X as you could hope for.
Although there are a few sequences that drag in the beginning, the overall story is a strong one – full of treachery, lost loved ones and tough decisions to make. Almost every character has a heart to heart talk, and looking around the theater, there were definitely a few tears in the works.
It might have been the stakes, the pacing, or the 400-mile-an-hour visuals, but the final race scene made my heart pound like no movie has done in a very long time. It’s been a while since I found myself panting by the time a movie sequence was all over. That’s what stands out about this film. It’s fun and intense at the same time. One minute could be filled with sweetly cheesy dialog and the next could find Speed being rear-ended off the face of a cliff.
I know it seems like I’ve focused a lot on the look of the movie, but the genius of it can’t be expressed enough. Plus, it’s frustratingly difficult to describe. The same way people were praising Sin City as ground breaking, people will be praising this one. Speed Racer is like a rainbow-colored 300.
This movie is sure to please. With The Wachowski Brother’s ballet blitzkrieg of visuals, strong characters and a tight action script, the theater-going experience is one that simultaneously took me back in time to the best parts of my childhood and flashed me forward to the future of what filmmaking can look like. There’s a long list of must-see movies coming out this Summer, but Speed Racer has definitely earned its place on that list. Just make sure to buckle up for the ride.
The Upside: A great story delivered by solid acting and backed up by incredible, stunning visual work.
The Downside: So the story is a tiny bit melodramatic. But it’s good versus evil, the little guy versus the big guy, hero versus dastardly villain, so it’s okay, right?
On the Side: The Wachowski’s also grabbed Ben Miles to work with again. He appeared as Dascombe alongside Roger Allam’s Prothero in V for Vendetta.