As far as he can remember, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has always had only one passion: auto racing. Even the tragic death of his brother during a rally couldn’t change that. But when Speed, who has always raced under his family’s banner, turns down a lucrative offer from a major constructor, the latter does everything in its power to make him regret it. Will corporate scheming have the better over our young champion?
If you go into “Speed Racer” expecting another “Matrix”, you’re shit out of luck. But we really can’t blame Andy and Larry Wachowski for that, as they’ve never claimed that they were gonna deliver another mythical/philosophical sci-fi saga. All they set out to do here is to translate to the big screen a 1960s Japanese cartoon series they loved when they were kids. Can you picture the Wachowski brothers at 6 or 7 years old, sitting in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, watching “Speed Racer” while eating breakfast cereals and getting this huge rush from the combination of the show’s super colourful visuals and all that sugar? Well, that feeling is what they’re after in their latest movie.
Hence, if you’re looking for depth, you’ll have a hard time finding it, as the plot is as thin as it gets and the characters are barely defined beyond their being good or bad guys. Even actors as gifted as Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci (as, respectively, Speed, his dad, his mom and his girlfriend) don’t make much of an impression. In fact, the only truly memorable and enjoyable character is Chim-Chim, the Racer family’s mischievous chimpanzee! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t go wrong with putting a monkey sidekick in your movie.
The not very interesting story and characters do weigh things down, especially considering that the film runs more than two hours, but one thing you can’t deny is the skill with which the Wachowski have taken the original cartoon’s look and brought it into the 21st century. “Speed Racer” is literally Japanese animation brought to life, with a generous dose of video game aesthetics and CGI for good measure. This particularly applies to the racing scenes, which come off like a cross between Super Mario Kart, Pixar’s “Cars” and the Pod Race in “Star Wars Episode One”.
Impressive, but it grows tiresome after a while and it’s never as badass as, say, the highway sequence in “The Matrix Reloaded”. Then again, as I’ve been saying, that’s not what the Wachowski were going for. This is a kids movie through and through, for better or worse. One thing’s for sure: Chim-Chim rocks!