Review: Speed Racer

After leaving the screening of the Wachowski brothers’ (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) latest feature Speed Racer, my brain hurt. This is intended as both complimentary and critical of the film as it’s much like the little girl with the little curl – When its good, its very, very good, but when its bad it can go speed racer go away and never come back. If nothing else, the latest in the current trend of comic and cartoon big screen adaptations is strikingly different from anything on offer at your local multiplex.

Speed (Emile Hirsch) has loved only car racing since he was a little boy growing up in the Racer family who eat, sleep and breath motor racing. Now that he’s old enough to be a driver, he’s showing great promise and is soon headhunted by the Royalton racing team, a branch of an evil corporate mega-empire. When he turns down their advances to stay with his own small family team, they make it their business to make the Racer family’s life as uncomfortable as possible while protecting their own financial interests. Can Speed’s driving skills take him to victory and save the day?

Frankly, you won’t care. The script is weak, horribly paced so that outside the races you’re left with nothing but long stretches of tedium. Christina Ricci plays the most superfluous love interest in a long time and Spirtle, Speed’s little brother, is intolerably grating, wearing out his cuteness factor very early in the piece. But again, you won’t care. This film is all about visual effects and racing action sequences. In this respect, it delivers big time.

With anime, computer games and kitschy old cartoons as the starting point, Speed Racer takes CGI and green screen effects to a whole other level. Its almost impossible to concisely sum up in words, think Salvador Dali if he’d grown up amongst the neon blur of Tokyo and developed an amphetamine addiction and you’re getting warm. When this is combined with the Wachowski brothers’ well-documented talent for gripping action set pieces in the two races that comprise the heart of the film, its big screen entertainment at its best.

Candy coated seems to be a popular way of describing this family film (I’m willing to bet young boys will eat it up) and it’s a fitting metaphor. Speed Racer provides an initial sugary rush but no nutritional value. But oh what a rush it is, as it forever redefines what it means for a movie to be a visual spectacle.