Directed by: Larry and Andy Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon
Rated: PG for sequences of action, some violence and language.
Parental Notes: This is a movie aimed squarely at kids. The racing scenes may be a bit intense for very young kids, but kids old enough to watch Saturday morning cartoons should be fine.
The Wachowski brothers’ new movie, “Speed Racer,” is something of a hybrid between their second and/or third Matrix movies (they’re kind of indistinguishable, after all) and a giant bowl of every sugared cereal you can find, all mixed together. Its super-saturated colors and thrilling race sequences are thrilling, but there’s not much in the way of solid underlying content.
It feels a lot like a Saturday-morning cartoon done on the big screen and in live action — which makes sense, because that’s what it is. I missed out on the old “Speed Racer” cartoons, alas, but I imagine they are an improvement on the movie, which has about as much plot as a single cartoon episode but is four and a half times as long. At least the racing sequences are amazing.
The story is simple: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), middle son of the Racer family, has always loved racing. Speed is so talented that he has sponsors begging for him to drive on their teams, but he knows they are all corrupt and won’t take their money. When one jilted sponsor informs him that all the big races are fixed and without a sponsor Speed will never win, Speed decides to fight back the only way he can: by racing and winning. Soon he joins forces with Inspector Detector (Benno Fuhrmann) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to bring down the sponsors once and for all!
The races are the only part of the movie that is worth much, and they are eye-poppingly wonderful. These cars don’t just race along the ground, they jump, flip, bounce, and even have weapons attachments for taking out the competition. The races are won by a combination of speed and strategically causing opponents to crash. Of course, all cars are equipped with a safety feature that bounces the driver out in a ball of safety foam so nobody is injured in the collisions. The film’s bright, super-saturated colors and bizarre locations (some of the race courses have loops and missing bits of track that must be jumped across, and there’s a cross-country race that goes through desert as well as icy mountains) make the racing sequences an unreal feast for the eyes.
It seems unfair to complain about thin plot and lack of character development in a movie based on a television cartoon, so I won’t. I will just say, don’t go into “Speed Racer” expecting to enjoy the scenes between the races if you’re over the age of ten. They are standard Saturday-morning fare, overwrought and full of cliches. Fine for kids, but parents may wind up rolling their eyes. Even so, if your interest is piqued, this is a movie worth seeing on the big screen. The racing sequences are worth the wait through the exposition if you love big, fast, and beautiful special effects.