Okay, first off, I’ll admit, I was never a fan of the Speed Racer cartoon when I was a kid. It was rarely on television here in Ireland, and when it was, I didn’t stick around for very long to give it a chance. So as I approach the Wachowski Brother’s big screen treatment of Speed Racer, I do so as someone who knows little to nothing about the original show. I’m not going to say it’s faithful to the original, because I don’t really know if it is. So I went to see the blazingly colourful movie with little expectations. Word on the street was that the movie wasn’t very good.
The Racer family consist of Pops, Mom, Rex, Speed, Spritle, their pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim, engineer Sparky and Speed’s girlfriend Trixie. Rex Racer is one of the top racers in the world, winning races and setting records. He’s idolised by his younger brother, Speed. But Rex leaves the family racing team and is subsequently killed in a racing accident. Years later, Speed has developed into a racer just as good, if not better than his legendary brother. He is noticed by the owner of Royalton Industries who wants to buy the Racer team and incorporate them into his company. But Speed declines, refusing to sell out his family. Royalton is infuriated and vows to destroy the Racer family. But the mysterious Racer X arrives on the scene to recruit Speed into helping expose the corruption inherent in the sport of racing.
Andy and Larry Wachowski hit the big time with 1999’s The Matrix, one of the most groundbreaking and influential movies of the last ten years. While the sequels weren’t a patch on the original, they still showcased how inventive the brothers are, and they show that once again with Speed Racer. What’s most stand-out about this film is the colour palate. The Matrix trilogy consisted of a palate of green and black. And in Speed Racer, the Wachowskis seem to be making up for this by using every shade of every colour they can get their hands on! Seriously, this film is unbelievably colourful. The visuals are amazing and it’s a joy to behold.
The main theme of the film is family. From the very start, it’s clear that the message the Wachowskis are trying to convey is that, above everything else, family is paramount. And this it’s a message that suits the film considering it is a family film. It’s one for the kids. But that doesn’t mean it’ll bore the hell out of the grown ups. The film’s gotten a lot of flack since it’s release, which I feel is rather unfair. While I’ll admit, it’s not the most intellectual of films, it never claims or tries to be such. It’s just a piece of fun cinema for the family that has no pretentions.
The cast is pretty much spot on for a film like this. Emile Hirsch is great as Speed. It’s up to him to carry the film (well, apart from the visuals) and he’s pretty good at looking wide-eyed at the scenery but determined when racing. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play Pops and Mom Racer. While Sarandon doesn’t have a great deal to do in the film, Goodman is solid as Pops, a man who dealt pretty badly with the loss of his first son, and is determined not to let the same thing happen to his second. Matthew Fox plays Racer X. While I find his character on Lost a little flakey, he’s got a much more of a presence here.
Stuck in between Iron Man and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Speed Racer is going to pass by pretty much unnoticed. Which is unfair really, as it’s a solid bit of popcorn cinema. It’s not the most intellectual piece of cinema, but it’s not sold as such. It’s pure entertainment and worth the price of admission for the visuals alone.