Speed Racer looks really good. I’ll give them that. The story wasn’t really for me but there was nothing particularly wrong with it either.
It’s just a straightforward kid’s movie with the best darned effects this side of Space Mountain.
Now for the caveats portion of our review. I’ve seen a few episodes of Speed Racer on Cartoon Network, but I remember about 45 seconds total of the show. The monkey stands out. So this puppy might have been laced with in-jokes and homages all over the place that the “true” fans will love in a big way. If so, I’m happy for them; but that was not my experience. The other caveat is that, by and large, PG films are not for me. Just the way I’m wired, I suppose.
The Speed Racer is played capably by Emile Hirsch. The film starts with him as a wee lad hanging out with his big brother Rex Racer, a professional racer on the WRL circuit. The film flashes forward and then back again quite a bit during the initial stages (the film is over two hours, by the way). Essentially, Speed Racer, along with Pops (John Goodman), Trixie (Christina Ricci), Mom (Susan Sarandon), the kid brother, and monkey, gets embroiled in a face-off against the corporate powers that be. Three major races break up the movie and provide a bit of adult relief from the threadbare plot.
Logically, everything makes sense here. The villains are clear and their motivations apparent — the family and Speed are gallant and determined in their efforts to make theirs the best racing team on the circuit. Matthew Fox takes a spin as Racer X, the man with shadowy intentions and phenomenal driving moves. The whole film feels a bit noir in terms of tone, but the blaring effects don’t allow for much introspection overall. This would be a difficult film to hate but not a difficult film to be a bit bored by. Again, and it bears repeating as this one carries the Wachowski brothers’ (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) signature; this is a film for those not looking for anything too intellectually challenging.
I would highly recommend Speed Racer for families seeking a visual treat. I’m less than optimistic that this will appeal to adults who weren’t big fans of the original. It doesn’t strike me as a date movie either: though Ricci and Hirsch have nice chemistry, the PG factor dulls it down a bit. However, I will say if your choices are between this and What Happens in Vegas… you shouldn’t think twice because that film is putrid by comparison. Aw, who am I kidding? You should just see Iron Man again. That one has good effects and a few laughs.