Movie Review
Speed Racer
Speed Racer poster
By Craig Younkin     Published May 10, 2008
US Release: May 9, 2008

Directed by: Andy Wachowski Larry Wachowski
Starring: Christina Ricci , Emile Hirsch , John Goodman , Susan Sarandon

PG for sequences of action, some violence and language.
Running Time: 135 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $43,929,341
Like a Skittles commercial on an acid trip.
“Speed Racer” is based on an anime television series from the 60’s but it’s mostly known to my generation from late-night showings on Adult Swim. Making a live-action version of it is a little confusing. I don’t know many people who really know of or liked the show, and based on its status of only periodically being shown on cable, at midnight no less, I’m not sure many are really clamoring for it. It’s an odd choice for the Wachowski Brothers, who seem to be facing an uphill battle in not only satisfying a fan base, but also actually creating one.

I’m glad that Emile Hirsch, excellent in “Into the Wild” and “Alpha Dog” to name just a few of his credits, is getting a big blockbuster to show people his chops. He is Speed Racer, a young driver who dreams of winning a cross-country car race called The Crucible, which killed his old brother many years ago. The family business is basically all about auto-racing, his father (John Goodman) even helped design his Mach 5 car, and he remains dedicated to winning with them. This pisses off Royalton (Roger Allam), the head of Royalton Industries, who eagerly wants Speed to race for him. And Royalton is the wrong guy to piss off, because along with the other racing moguls, he is manipulating the results of the races so the top drivers can boost sales. Speed is given an ultimatum. If he won’t drive for Royalton, Royalton will see that the Mach 5 never crosses another finish line. With the help of his family, his girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), and a mysterious driver known as Racer X (Mathew Fox), Speed challenges Royalton in order to save the sport that he loves.

The Wachowski Brothers need to be careful. The visuals in The Matrix had flair and substance and at least “V For Vendetta” had the visuals and tried for substance, but now in “Speed Racer” they’ve done something miraculous, actually taking the substance out of the visuals themselves. Don’t even get me started on the plot, which is a convoluted mess about corporate greed combined with auto-racing, but the world they create, like a Skittles commercial on an acid trip, is the real problem here. The movie looks so fake and cheesy, and the bright and shiny scenery distracts from the actual actors, as does the fact that their acting against a green-screen in almost every scene. The races themselves are made to look cartoonish and unreal, taking all suspense and tension away from the action. And the few fights the movie does have are turned into half-assed versions of physical comedy that are neither funny or entertaining.

So basically all we have left here is a 2 hour and 15 minute movie that needs to make us laugh in order to like it at all, and that humor is a task the Wachoski’s give to a young actor named Paulie Litt, who plays Speed’s younger brother Spritle. I wanted to shoot this kid. I wish the movie was a first-person shooter video game (the movie is basically a video game anyway) so that I could end the misery that is this character. It must be written that every little kid in a family film has to be annoying, obnoxious, and supply a cootie joke every few minutes.

The rest of the cast is just as cartoonish and one-dimensional. Hirsch’s talents are wasted, reduced to playing the naïve do-gooder, and Ricci should really know better than to lower herself. Allam makes for the usual cliché villain, over-acting the seething villainy to the point where it’s the funniest thing in the movie. And you can pretty much see John Goodman and Susan Sarandon crying off-camera and throwing things at their agents.

“Speed Racer” is just a long, boring, convoluted, and above all, unbearably fake looking movie that for some reason came to be created. What that reason is makes it almost worth it to listen to the director commentary on the DVD. Either way, it’s gotta be more entertaining than the movie itself.
Craig's Grade: D+
Craig's Overall Grading: 340 graded movies
Share, Bookmark
'Speed Racer' Articles
  • Friday Analysis for May 9
    May 10, 2008    With an estimated $6.2 million box office that was only good enough for third place, Speed Racer is on course to miss expectations. -- Philip Friedman