Haunted by the memory and legacy of his older brother (Porter) who died racing, Speed Racer (Hirsch) is one of the most talented automobile drivers on the circuit. Catching the attention of business mogul Royalton (Allam), Speed learns that all the big races are fixed, so he teams up with the mysterious Racer X (Fox) to fight the sport’s worsening corruption…
When you create something as hugely influential as The Matrix, people tend to expect a certain standard from you. Granted, the increasingly disappointing sequels left audiences, well, increasingly disappointed (not to mention increasingly baffled), but some of us still remained curious as to what the Wachowski siblings would do next. Tasked with adapting the cult ’60s anime series Speed Racer, Andy and Larry (who’s since become Lana) followed up with another hyper-stylised visual assault.
But while The Matrix was teeming with neat ideas, distinctive style and trend-setting technology, Speed Racer is more like a video game come to life. Bursting with neon-bright colours and set in an unapologetically cartoon world, it undoubtedly offers some truly amazing visual work, and the zooming, whooshing, gravity-defying races are often thrilling in a big, purposefully implausible way. The problem is, however, that while the propulsive car-fu provides an exhilarating wow-factor early on, the unexplainably over-the-top racing eventually becomes something repetitive and exhausting. Despite how amazingly realised it is.
In fairness, there’s more here than just flashy car acrobatics, as the Wachowskis focus the movie around corruption and race fixing. But while this is probably the right approach story-wise, it’s difficult to know who the end product will appeal to. On one hand, the talky stuff about family and corruption in sport will bore those enjoying the juvenile aspects, while on the other any adults will find it all too childish. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon do their best as the parents (last name “Racer” – it’s that kind of movie) and Roger Allam is a hoot as the nefarious villain. But Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci get lost in amongst the candy-coloured, Crayola-hued artifice, while Matthew Fox is wasted under a Daredevil-like costume. As for the annoying kid brother and his comedy chimp, let’s not even go there.
While Speed Racer is a truly amazing visual achievement, the ‘serious’ material on corruption and generally juvenile tone don’t quite come together.