Let’s be clear on this – I have never seen any of the Speed Racer anime´ nor have I seen any of the manga, and am barely aware of vintage merchandizing. Now that we have that out of the way, I have to say that, as a Speed Racer virgin, the brightly-colored film by the Wachowski Brothers is a lot of fun.
Emile Hirsch rocks as the title character, a boy in the process of becoming a man – and a believer in fair play when it appears that there hasn’t been any in professional racer since, well, ever. His rock solid family [John Goodman as Pops Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer and Paulie Litt as younger brother Spritel], pet chimp, Chim Chim and girlfriend Trixie [a very anime´ looking Christina Ricci] give him the courage to turn down an offer to sign with the top team – at which point he learns of the real nature of his beloved sport. From there it’s only a matter of winning a couple of races [against an entire field of cheaters] and bringing down the Royalton Racing Team [the team he turned down]. Nothing to it – not!
While there’s not a lot of plot to Speed Racer, there’s almost always lots going on as Speed – with the help of the mysterious Racer X [sure it’s not hard to make the connection between him and Speed’s older brother, who is supposed to have died, but it’s a convention – just like nobody recognizing Superman behind Clark Kent’s specs. Deal with it and move on!]. The races are beautifully staged exercises in gladiatorial driving; the fight sequences really capturing the odd, freeze-frame style of anime´ and manga; the cast is clearly having more fun than should be legal, and the whole thing just feels good. The only real flaw in the film is that it’s just a wee bit too talky – but that hardly matters.
For a movie with a candy-colored world [the bright, shiny color of fresh hard candy – not the pastels of rock candy], the emphasis is on the kind of grounding that a good family provides and the kind of justice that is most deserved – the justice of the untouchable evil being brought down by one man with a mission. This may be my first encounter with Speed Racer but it won’t be my last.
Final Grade: A