Screenwriters: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Paulie Litt, Matthew Fox, Roger Allam
Running Time: 129 mins
Speed Racer is an old-fashioned children’s movie that blends the childish humour and family values of The Flintstones/The Jetsons with some mind-boggling special effects courtesy of the Wachowski bothers. Stepping away from their dark, sci-fi roots, (The Matrix, V For Vendetta) the duo show that they are two steady pairs of hands when it comes to producing a warm-hearted family film.
Emile Hirsch takes the lead as Speed Racer, a natural racing car driver that is driven to success by the death of his older brother Rex. His father Pops (Goodman) is a legendary independent car mechanic, who refuses to work for the big boy conglomerates, while his childhood sweetheart Trixie (Ricci) keeps the sports star's feet firmly on the ground. Also thrown into the mix are younger brother Sprittle (Litt) and his pet monkey Chim-Chim, who provide the film's comic relief as pair of mischief-making, karate-obsessed candy hunters. Gluing the family together is Mum Racer (Sarandon), who provides a shoulder to cry on and, more importantly, knows how to make fantastic pancakes.
When Speed catches the eye of World Racing League owner Mr Royalton (Allam) with his driving skills at hometown track Thunderhead, he's offered a deal to work with the biggest company in the sport. When Speed turns down Royalton, the business mogul vows to ruin the young driver's career and destroy his family's racing heritage. Determined to prove that there's more to his treasured sport than race-fixing, corruption and share holders, Speed attempts to take on Royalton at his own game and triumph in the World Racing League. However, before he can compete he must earn his entry spot by winning highly-dangerous cross country rally The Crucible - the same race that killed his brother.
There are various confusing subplots, with the main one involving Racer X (Matthew Fox), a driver who works for intelligence agencies, gathering facts about Royalton and other corrupt race organisations in the hope that he can regain justice and honour for the sport. Fox's wooden performance is without doubt the low light of the movie. Given all the worst lines, his character's decision to protect his identity with a mask is a fortunate one for the Lost actor, who will be hoping he can get back to his day job as Dr. Jack without anybody mentioning this dreadfully dull turn.
Hirsch fits the bill perfectly as the all-American hero, with his suave good looks, cheeky smile and well coiffured locks, while Ricci and Goodman put in decent comic performances that make the movie more swallowable for adults. Kids will no doubt love the poop-throwing hi-jinks of Sprittle and Chim-Chim, but with the movie stretching over two hours, many older audience members will be looking at their watches during the pair's various goofy scenes.
However, it is the Wachowski brothers' special effects that are the real selling point for this movie. Their mixture of lurid cartoon colours, Mario Kart meets Wipeout racing battles and awe-inspiring set pieces are quite stunning. Using a multitude of complex techniques, the film mixes the brightness and imagination of the original 2-D Speed Racer cartoons with the vomit-inducing speed and danger of a rollercoaster ride being experienced in fast-forward.
The movie's central themes of family values and financial corruption ruining sport are well handled and thankfully avoid the trappings of Disney schmaltz. It's also refreshing to see Sarandon and Ricci, the two female characters, providing some real backbone to the story, rather than playing stereotypical helpless women. While younger viewers may be confused by the multitude of storylines and frequent use of flashbacks, and older watchers will undoubtedly see the all too predictable plot twists hurtling towards them like a runaway train, the movie easily passes as an enjoyable time-waster on a rainy afternoon.