Preparing for his latest contest, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) thinks back to his childhood and his brother Rex (Scott Porter). He would never pay attention in school, and more than once their mother (Susan Sarandon) would be called in to see Speed's teacher for a word about his learning, or lack of it. The truth was, all he cared about was becoming a racing driver like his brother and would beg to be taken to the track for a spin, but soon his happy childhood would be deeply affected by tragedy when Rex was killed in an accident. This strengthened Speed's resolve and now he stands on the brink of being the world's best...
Filmmaking brothers the Wachowskis had a lot to prove after the perceived disappointments of their Matrix sequels, but they hit a snag when their follow up, an adaptation of a Japanese cartoon series translated into English as Speed Racer, was a flop at the box office. Whether audiences thought that it was too trivial to be worth their cash or not is not clear, but they did stay away and reviews accusing the film of being an assault on the eyes could not have helped. With the brothers doing the scripting as well as directing you could say they only had themsleves to blame.
That, and the fact that they should have adapted Marine Boy instead. But Speed Racer it was, and like a lot of works that are judged to have been unfairly neglected this picked up support to make it at least a cult success, if not the blockbuster that was anticipated. That overwhelming style was an attraction to certain people, so while its hyperactive qualities made it difficult to take any of its supposedly sincere scenes seriously, the action did compensate. That said it's a long time to spend - over two hours - with a rather one note affair, especially when that note is so shrill and downright loud.
As it is, the cast is reduced to playing what are literally cartoon characters in a competely surface fashion, from the annoying little kid (Paulie Litt) all the way up to the concerned parents (Sarandon and John Goodman), with any genuine emotion looking as artificial as everything else here. The plot also hits a problem in that movies about car racing, unless they're cross country like The Cannonball Run or its ilk, tend to be very repetitive and don't make for the most satisfying narratives unless you're enthralled by the vehicles, and this is something the Wachowskis failed to overcome in Speed Racer.
They throw in various twists, so there's the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) who keeps his identity secret though it can be guessed, and the scheming Royalton (Roger Allam) who appears to offer Speed a fair deal until he realises his proposed sponsor is a bad 'un. Love interest is provided by Christina Ricci as Trixie, who with her tiny frame and large eyes does indeed look like an anime character, and for comedy value there's a chimp who takes care of many a humorous reaction shot, but as all of this is approached in the same gee-whiz fashion, it cannot help but grow monotonous after about an hour. The racing sequences are the big attraction, yet resemble watching someone playing a computer game for long stretches, that someone not being you. If you turn off any rational thought and allow yourself to be dazzled by the bright colours and moving shapes then that's the best way to watch: as if the whole film were a noisy, technically supercharged kaleidoscope. Music by Michael Giacchino.
Reclusive American director who, along with brother Larry, now Lana, wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy. The Chicago-born Wachowski brothers debuted with the lesbian gangster thriller Bound, and followed it with 1999's sci-fi epic The Matrix which was a critical and commercial smash and set a new standard for special effects. Sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were less well received but still scored at the box office. What did not score was their live action version of cartoon Speed Racer, their adaptation of the bestselling book Cloud Atlas or their original epic Jupiter Ascending, though cult followings were not far away. Also wrote the screeplays for Assassins and V For Vendetta. Born Andy, and credited as such on her first films.
Lana Wachowski (1965 - )
Reclusive American director who, along with brother Andy, wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy. The Chicago-born Wachowski brothers debuted with the lesbian gangster thriller Bound, and followed it with 1999's sci-fi thriller The Matrix which was a critical and commercial smash and set a new standard for special effects. Sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were less well received but still scored at the box office. What did not score was their live action version of cartoon Speed Racer, their adaptation of the bestselling Cloud Atlas or their original epic Jupiter Ascending, though cult followings were not far away. Also wrote the screeplays for Assassins and V For Vendetta. Born Larry, and credited as such on her first few films, she became Lana in the 21st century.