Speed Racer Review - A Vibrantly Entertaining Live-Action Cartoon
by Alex Billington
May 7, 2008
The Wachowskis have amazed again and shown us a world we'll only ever see in their imagination. Speed Racer is yet another visual revolution, but this time it's for kids, too. It's everything you'd imagine a live-action adaptation of the classic cartoon series would be, stylized and glorified in ways only the Wachowskis could dream up. After seeing it twice I confidently say that Speed Racer is the most entertaining and mind-blowing kids movie this year. At just over two hours, Speed Racer is longer than most kids' movies, yet it's still an exciting thrill ride from start to finish.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the second son in a family born of racing. His father Pops Racer (John Goodman) and older brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter) have independently built their own race cars all their life. Speed has grown up with racing in his blood and now it's his time to take to the track. After showing the world he is destined to become the next big thing in racing, the industry sponsors target him as their next big acquisition. Speed knows better than to give up his family for a sponsorship deal and remains independent, discovering not only how the racing industry truly works but also the price of messing with the wrong people.
This is unquestionably a kid's film and is designed strictly as a live interpretation of the cartoon. It's fair to call the visuals "The Matrix with cars," but the PG-rated script follows the feeling of the cartoon closer than I've ever seen any adaptation do before. It's got all your standard kid's entertainment with goofy lines, inexplicable happenings, and joke moments, most of which usually involve Speed's younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his monkey friend Chim Chim.
What I've really come to love about Speed Racer is how it takes us both on thrilling rides and shows us a vibrant world of high-speed racing combined with a simple yet captivating story. The Wachowskis aren't going to win awards for any of their writing, but it's done well enough to at least drive the story in the right direction. And if you can retain the spirit of your inner 12-year-old and suspend your own disbelief, you'll enjoy Speed Racer as much as I did. There really is no better way to describe the movie than an exact live-action conversion of the Speed Racer cartoon. As long as you keep that in your mind going in, you'll walk out thoroughly entertained. After seeing it twice, I think I've come enjoy this as much as any of my favorite childhood cinematic experiences.
In comparison, Speed Racer isn't as finely crafted as either Iron Man or The Matrix, but it has a distinctive style and that's where the Wachowski's always shine. Emile Hirsch does a formidable job as Speed, considering almost everything in the film was CGI. Matthew Fox was underutilized as Racer X, which is a shame since he had the greatest depth out of anyone in the cast. Christina Ricci as Speed's girlfriend Trixie, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer, and Paulie Litt as Spritle were all mildly serviceable as well. The cast isn't what this is going to remembered for and that's not a real problem.
Speed Racer is an action film aimed squarely at the 12-year-old in all of us. Everyone who can step out of their own age and enjoy what the Wachowskis have created will be overjoyed by this movie. It has captured the spirit of pure cartoon entertainment and ensconced it in a glorious, stylish, candy-coated world as only the Wachowski Brothers can. Speed Racer is a movie I've come to love after two viewings and is easily a movie I won't forget. The Wachowskis haven't created the next Matrix, they've created the perfect adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon. And I can't stop waking up in the mornings to watch it.