Review: Speed Racer

I went into Speed Racer with somewhat tempered expectations. Sure, I grew up with the cartoon and it was really one of my first exposures to Japanese anime (I would later realize that just about every Japanese anime was really out there at times), but I figured that since they hadn't made a movie by now they wouldn't have made it. Guess I was wrong. The Wachowski Brothers' adaptation of Speed Racer had its ups and downs: the ups were the bombast of color and thrilling races, while the downs were just about everything else. The story centers around Speed Racer (go figure) who just wants to go fast (kind of like Ricky Bobby). When winning a race that garners the attention of just about every corporate sponsor available, one in particular (named Royalton) makes a personal visit to the Speed residence. But when Speed turns down his offer to race for him, of course Royalton makes his life a living hel...heck, and Speed has to fight against all the odds to win one of the most grueling off-road races called Casa Cristo to qualify for the Grand Prix and singlehandedly redefine racing. All of this while dealing with the ghost of his older brother Rex Racer, and the mysterious Racer X who keeps appearing to help Speed out. You have to know going in that this Speed Racer is a kids movie at heart, much like the cartoon was a kids movie. Sure, in just about anything you have for kids viewing you could find more mature jokes and themes (Shrek anyone?), but this movie is really an exception because it really is so kid-friendly; for example, there is really no bad language (the characters stop themselves before saying anything bad). The family values system is there to combat all the evils of the world, and the Racers get by as a family. Mom Racer is always there to provide sound guidance, and Pops Racer (with Sparky) fix the cars and teach Speed life lessons. Trixie is the elementary school sweetheart (who strangely lives with the Racers) of Speed, while Spritle and Chim-Chim provide the comic relief. One of the things that the Wachowskis did great was the explosive use of color. This movie is dripping with color, hues and saturation, and one of the unique things is every character has their own defined color. Speed is always wearing blue, Royalton is menacing in purple and Pops is always in red. The colors define the characters and really help their development as characters, so they did a great job with that. The tracks also look gorgeous and extremely vivid. Flash bulbs are constantly popping, speed lines look like Technicolor blurs and (as mentioned earlier) every character has their own unique color. The Wachowskis are proving to be quite adept at highly stylized visuals, and Speed Racer is no exception. Now, I'd be completely remiss if I did this entire review without making one mention of the actual racing. In one word, it's jawdropping. The race sequences are so intense and furious that it's just insane. The Mach 5 hits another car to spin them out, flips into the air to avoid a missile and then accelerate through the turn to win the race. I don't know how many hours were spent planning these races out, but all the planning paid off extremely well. And there are about five races in the film, with three of them being pretty long and thrilling. The movie was true to the cartoon which is good. But, as I said earlier, it is a kids movie at heart, so don't expect anything too mature in terms of life lessons or anything. I think the biggest problem with Speed Racer is that even though it's a kids movie, it tries to tackle the issue of sportsmanship and corporate interference in sports, so it kind of gets caught in the middle in terms of its feel. It's like the Wachowskis wanted to make a really serious movie, but had to lighten it up at parts because it's Speed Racer. It's definitely worth seeing for the visuals and racing along, as the story is decent. Rating: 65 out of 100