It may come as a shock, but one of the bigger bombs a couple summers ago is actually the best movie the Wachowskis’ have done since “The Matrix.” Anyone whose seen the last two “Matrix” movies – or “The Invasion” for that matter – might think this isn’t saying much. Instead, it turns out “Speed Racer” – based on one of the cheesiest TV shows of all times – is one of the best movies in the Wachowskis’ gravity-defying repertoire.
Emile Hirsch heads the all-star cast as the eponymous Speed Racer, who wants to follow his older brother Rex’s (Scott Porter) footsteps into the competitive world of futuristic race cars tricked out with gadgets galore. But unlike the American version of the show, there’s no parachutes in these race cars – as the ill-fated Rex learns during a race. After his brother’s untimely death, Speed’s dreams are curtailed by his overprotective parents Pops Speed (John Goodman) and Mom Speed (Susan Sarandon). Speed persists with the help of his stalwart girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) as well the occasional interference of his brother Spritle (Paul Litt) and Spritle’s … ummm … pet chimpanzee Chim Chim. Soon, not only is Speed behind the wheel of his brother’s famed Mach 5, he’s also offered a lucrative contract by powerful CEO Royalton (Roger Allam). No sooner does Speed turn down Royalton’s offer is he mired in the corruption of the race track, where the ruthless Royalton selects the winner well before the first lap. Now Speed must team up with his rival Taejo (Bi/Jeong Ji-Hoon) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to take down Royalton once and for all.
While many have complained “Speed Racer” is too bright and too loose, it’s the movie’s colorful nature that is its saving grace. After years of dark, vaguely futuristic films, the Wachowskis finally take the stick out, cut loose and enjoy themselves behind the wheel of this picture. There’s fun to be had in this movie, whether it’s watching a twelve year old and his pet monkey go on a sugar binge or Racer X smack down a rival racer in mid-air while still sitting in his car. From the imaginative designs of the cars to the enthusiasm of the action, this movie is meant to be enjoyed – a fact further evidenced by the killer cast. If there’s one small hint of pretension, it’s that the movie’s lengthy running time (well over two hours long) ensures your youngsters may need a sugar binge of their own to get through this flick. While the plot is a bit too complicated at times (inspiring a few moments of “Who? What? Wha-huh?”), the length does translate into an overall deeper story, furthering Speed’s disillusion with his past heroes while developing his overall character arc. The plot also succeeds in smoothing over a few plot holes left over from the original series (in the 60’s cartoon, Racer X’s secret identity makes Clark Kent look like a master of disguise).
Overall, “Speed Racer” stands out as a dazzling mix of adventure and intrigue. It may not be as thought-provoking – or as provocative – as other Wachowskis’ works, but it is certainly the most fun movie the filmmakers have made in a long time. After a decade of red pill/blue pill monotony, that’s saying a lot. So while you won’t see any Keanu in this movie, you will see plenty of over-the-top cars, explosions and chimpanzees. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough for me.
You can buy Speed Racer for $5.57 at Wal-Mart.