While Speed Racer may not win first place for the weekend, there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has always wanted to be a race car driver, following in the tire tracks of his big brother Rex. After a family falling out and subsequent tragedy, Speed takes up where his brother left off. When an industry tycoon named Royalton (Roger Allam) is turned down by Speed to race for him professionally, Royalton goes after Speed and his family any way he can, including fixing races by targeting Speed on the track. The mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) offers a solution to ruin Royalton and revealing him for the villain he is, but it will take everything Speed Racer has plus the support of his family and friends to prove there’s still one race car driver who can never be bought.
After reading some early reviews, I can only wonder: what movie were “they” watching? Keep in mind that the task the Wachowskis took on was to create a believable world where high-tech, rocket-assisted, fuel-celled race cars are equipped standard with on-board jump-jacks and enough ultra-light, polymer car body armor to take several hits throughout a race without slowing down. In addition, they also had to build a story to accommodate the Racer family history and other elements into the film, celebrating what made Speed Racer fun to watch without making fun of the source material. The result is a film fans should love and parents can enjoy taking their entire families to.
From the very beginning of the film, viewers are treated to a rich, colorful, utopian world of the future where everything is clean and the skies are blue. Some of the interiors are reminiscent of Dick Tracy, using base colors with almost no texture to mirror the clean lines of a cartoon. At the same time, the cast is spot-on with their characters: Racer X is still the coolest, Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his pet monkey Chim-Chim stir up trouble but still manage to help out in critical situations, Mom and Pops Racer (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman) are very much the concerned parents, and Trixie (Christina Ricci) actually manages to get away with lines like “Hubba hubba” and “Cool beans” without sounding foolish or looking any less beautiful.
From the villains behind the scenes to the dirty drivers themselves, everything that made the cartoon fun is here, even the Mammoth Car. The editing, however, is what amazingly holds the film together for over two hours, because, frankly, there’s almost too much story to fit in. Flashbacks are appropriate and revealed as they need to be, keeping the story going forward as it races towards a ending that, while predictable, is still no less satisfying. The entire production is self-contained and demands no sequel, so I have to ask: what more was anyone looking for, or is it that they just can’t imagine a story this fantastic can actually be told at all? At one point during the film, Speed reveals that his family treats racing like a religion. If that’s true, don’t accuse me of being a Speed Racer apologist; I’m a convert.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)