“Speed Racer” is saturated with CGI and color, two ravishing elements that make it look more like a video game than a movie. The funny thing, though, is that with all the special effects used here, the film never stops to admire them. It saves most of its affection for the characters – they’re so goofy and over-the-top that it’s hard not to like them.
As a matter of fact, the characters are almost as fantastic as all those colors that bring the scenery to life. Every color looks like it’s been capitalized and italicized, with an exclamation point on top of everything. In this movie, purple isn’t just purple – it’s PURPLE!
It’s based on the old TV show, an animated series about a guy with an ultramodern racecar that James Bond might’ve envied. They don’t play the reruns anymore, but fans will never forget the manic dialogue and the crazy theme song, which sounded like a ’60s version of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” It’s not very popular anymore, which is kind of an advantage if you think about it: Since there aren’t many children who remember “Speed Racer,” the film has a chance to take the setup and guide it in a new direction.
The film opens with young Speed daydreaming in arithmetic class: To pass the time, he thinks about fast cars and affectionate crowds at the races. His big brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter), is a family hero who Speed admires for his skills on the racetrack. It all changes when Rex has an accident during his last race that ends up killing him – Speed sorely misses him.
Years later, Speed (Emile Hirsch) enters various races and becomes just as popular as his brother was. His Mom (Susan Sarandon) offers him moral support while Pops (John Goodman) keeps the car running like new. He has a good relationship with his girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), but the one he has with his pesky little brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) is a bit more of a challenge – that could be because of the way he hides in Speed’s trunk with his pet monkey, Chim Chim. Not surprisingly, they make their presence known at the most inappropriate times.
Before long, a hotshot entrepreneur named Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam) has his eye on Speed. He offers him a position with the corporate racing team, which would mean leaving the family business behind. Of course, Royalton’s not the only one who’s got his eye on Speed – a mysterious stranger named Racer X drops in to have a word with him.
Matthew Fox plays Racer X, by the way. In fact, Fox is the most rewarding part of the whole film – he plays it dark enough to balance out the boldness of all that BLUE! and RED! On top of that, he also gets to reveal one of the film’s major surprises. (Actually, he gets to reveal two of them.)
This is a solid action movie, but it’s also pretty campy. There are some moments that are even kind of silly, like when Trixie observes, “Since when did winning become so important?”
Remember, though: It’s based on a cartoon.
I’m sorry David, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you here.
Simply put, “Speed Racer” is a joke, void of the fun that made the cartoon a cult-hit. Sure, the colors and special effects are brilliant and the movie looks pretty, but the plot is a disaster and the movie goes on about 40 minutes longer than it should. All the little twists and turns in the plot make it confusing and annoying and something that will force older fans of the series to cry in their sleep for weeks. Fox is solid as Racer-X, while Goodman and Sarandon do decent jobs in supporting roles, but it’s not enough to make this film even remotely watchable.
Go Speed Racer, go…away from me.
-Patrick Hickey Jr.