In adapting the 1960s Japanese anime television series,
writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have created a noisy,
overlong, mind-numbing extravaganza that seems tailor-made for
nobody but themselves and their twisted sensibilities.
Their longtime producing partner Joel Silver insists in the
production notes (which are almost as lengthy as the movie itself):
"`Speed Racer' is for everybody."
At two hours and 15 minutes, it's way too long for little kids,
the only ones for whom this explosion at a crayon factory would
seem even vaguely entertaining. Adults seeking the nostalgia of
their own childhood will just be disappointed, because "Speed
Racer" the movie bears little resemblance to "Speed Racer" the
And even racing fans will have trouble following the races,
because they're edited in such a way that it's impossible to tell
who's in the lead, who's gaining and where the finish line is (not
to mention that the Wachowskis have obliterated the laws of gravity
and physics, therefore negating the sport's innate logic). With
"The Matrix" trilogy, this tactic of toying with reality was
considered bold and innovative, and it put the notoriously
reclusive Wachowskis on the map - whether they wanted to be there
or not. Here, it just feels distractingly nonsensical, which makes
it hard for the audience to connect with the material.
It's not like you can rely on the performances to make the
experience worthwhile, either. "Speed Racer" wastes of the
talents of people who truly can act and are capable of far more
than functioning as cogs within such candy-coated chaos.
Emile Hirsch stars as Speed Racer, who likes to race and still
misses his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), who died suspiciously
in competition years ago. That's about all we know about him - and
because his character is so underdeveloped, it's impossible to care
whether he wins, loses, breaks any of Rex's records or even ends up
in one piece.
Christina Ricci co-stars in the inert, thankless role of Speed's
girlfriend, Trixie (though her enormous brown eyes and severe pixie
cut do seem appropriately cartoonish), with Susan Sarandon and John
Goodman as Mom and Pops Racer.
The story has something to do with the corrupt mogul Royalton
(Roger Allam), who fixes races and wants to drag Speed over to the
dark side of the sport.
Kids will love that!
But Speed is loyal to the family business, one of the few
independently operated racing organizations, and he royally angers
Royalton by turning down his lucrative offer. He then must defend
himself against this corporate crook's schemes by teaming up with
Racer X (Matthew Fox), who looks and drives suspiciously like
Speed's deceased brother, and Japanese rival Taejo Togokahn, played
by Korean pop star Rain in his first American film role.
Speed also gets help, somewhat, from his pesky younger brother
Spritle (Paulie Litt), who has a knack for showing up at all the
wrong times and all the wrong places with the family's pet
chimpanzee, Chim-Chim. Basically, the two provide wedged-in moments
of unfunny slapstick humor between the races.
It is kinda cute in one scene, though, when Spritle is wearing
Paul Frank pajamas with the designer's signature monkey heads on
them, and Chim-Chim is wearing an identical set decorated with
little-boy heads. The costumes and production design do make
"Speed Racer" tolerable at times with their evocative sense of
mid-century kitsch, from the furniture and wallpaper to the dresses
and even the tiny barrettes Trixie wears in her silky hair.
But "Speed Racer" is, of course and unfortunately, mainly
about the races - a never-ending blur of lights and color, an
overlapping cacophony of drivers and announcers, flying car parts
and flailing crowds.
Afterward, the last thing you'll want to do is get into your own
car. But you may have a craving for Skittles.
"Speed Racer," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG
for sequences of action, some violence, language and brief smoking.
Running time: 135 minutes. One star out of four.