Andy and Larry Wachowski, the folks behind the Matrix trilogy, have taken the iconic but decidedly low-tech 1960’s Japanese cartoon character and put the pedal to the metal with dazzling effects and electrifying action. Do what Speed Racer does — put on your red socks and GO!
Even as a child, Speed Racer could only think of one thing, making cars go as fast as possible. Not surprising — he was surrounded by racing. The family business was race cars. His father (John Goodman) built them and his older brother drove them. When his brother is killed in a crash, Speed (Emile Hirsch) takes over. On and off the race track he battles the competition, even when they do not fight fairly. By his side are his parents, his little brother, his and his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci, looking like a real-life version of an anime heroine with her enormous eyes).
The plot is pretty much the same as the cartoon series, meaning light-weight and a little incoherent. Basically, evil forces are trying to stop Speed from winning the race. The sections with the kid brother and his chimp are slow points for everyone over age 9 but it is all great fun, with a hero to believe in and visuals that are both reassuringly retro and stunningly innovative. Every wallpaper and fabric, each car, helmet, and racetrack is meticulously designed to evoke a mash-up between Speed’s Norman Rockwell-style, solidly heartland home and the souped-up super space age world outside. The Wachowskis re-invent the color wheel with reds and yellows that make fire engines and school buses seem pale.
The dialogue is pared down to essentials: “You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!” “Maybe not, but it’s the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something.” The plot is no more significant (or confusing) than in the cartoon originals. All we need to know is that in the world of Speed Racer you can drive a car and change the world — if you drive it very, very fast.