Speed Racer (2008) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Laurence Bush) “Speed Racer” is a visual oil spill, lushly colored, slick and thin. Doing a live action, big budget version of a 1960’s Japanese animated series sounds doomed to failure. The original Speed Racer comic books had some depth and characterization, but the anime, especially the American culturally neutral version was just ocular fun: bright colors, speeding exotics, ingenious gadgets. With the anime as a departure point, the writers/directors Wachowski crashed the plot into the fiery wall of cliché death, but it wasn’t all bad –really.

The fight scenes, a Wachowski specialty, and the special effects were gaudy, comic bookish and extreme but that was the intent. They are clearly the best bits of the film, and the attention to graphic detail made fine results. Even this is a let down in the end, because the effects did not look significantly better than the previews on a big screen television, and they were repetitious. Boy howdy, how many times does a viewer want to see the acute “Tokyo drift” turns, the spin outs, the fiery crashes and the cliff plunges?

The movie begins disastrously with a cloyingly cute, young Speed Racer manipulating his kind older brother Rex. If that isn’t bad enough, when flashing forward to the 18 year old Speed, he was a little brother Spritle paired with a chimpanzee Chim Chim. The brothers W are pointing the film at eight-year old boys and leaving the rest behind.

When the plot finally proceeds, Speed, as expected, resists the temptations of greedy corporate sponsor Royalton and saves the independence of Racer Motors for his dear old folks, well played by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. The Korean superstar, Rain, makes a cool but lifeless appearance as the ironically Japanese racer, Taejo Togokahn. He has no real chance to act but stands in as a plot device to get Speed to race in the dreaded car rally that supposedly killed his brother, Rex. The film also wastes Christina Ricci who has the thankless role of Speed’s handy girlfriend, Trixie. They make her look about 14. Good thing little brother and the chimp always stow away in Speed’s trunk to prevent any jailbait osculation.

In the end, the movie has a fine cast with a conflict-averse plot. Speed never really seems tempted by Royalton’s exotic racing factory. The only problem is how to turn him down smoothly. He gets along too well with Trixie. Their relationship is never explored. Mom and Dad learned from their tragic experience with older son, Rex, and they’re fine with Speed’s daring exploits and independent actions. Their relationships are never explored either. The pivotal character, Taejo, never gets to show his conflict between familial duty and helping Speed to do the right thing, even though it’s the main thrust of the plot.

Are these the same Wachowski brothers who made the Matrix movies? Who wrangled with android rights, questions of faith, Baudrillard and other contemporary philosophers? Who wrote a new chapter in production design and integrated storyboard development? Lex Luther said that a genius could ”unlock the secrets of the universe” from reading “the ingredients of chewing gum wrapper.” Perhaps the original “Speed Racer” didn’t have the right ingredients.

Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski (director) / Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski (screenplay)
CAST: Emile Hirsch … Speed Racer
Nicholas Elia … Young Speed
Christina Ricci … Trixie
John Goodman … Pops Racer
Melissa Holroyd … Speed’s Teacher
Susan Sarandon … Mom Racer
Matthew Fox … Racer X

Buy Speed Racer on DVD