Last year's movie Speed Racer finally hit a format cheap enough for me to bother to watch the cinematic adaptation of a childhood favorite. The Wachowski bros. (The Matrix Trilogy) bring their flashy, zippy flair to the classic anime tv series to create a movie that stands somewhere between slavish re-creation and a hot mess. With many adaptations of a tv series to a movie there are often concerns about being faithful to source material. Suprisingly that's not an issue here, in fact much of the tv show is including its weaknesses are all brought to the show.
Speed Racer is well cast with Emile Hirsch as a capable Speed, a game Christina Ricci as Trixie and a perfectly suited John Goodman as Pops helps keeps things watchable. The story is classic Speed Racer, Speed takes on corruption among the businessmen backing racing by driving his tricked out Mach 5 through a series of dangerous races backed by his racing family. The Mach 5 is very similar to the original make up of the tv show, right down to the buzzsaw blades in the front. It sounds like a good start, but things fall apart shortly from there.
First, the story IS classic Speed Racer. Meaning the sketchy characters aren't fleshed out at all save some mumbo jumbo about Speed searching for what drives him. A kid friendly angle is taken with some emphasis on younger brother Spridle and Chim Chim's (the chimp) antics. The action is cartoonish and nobody dies (well, almost nobody). While the mystique of Racer X is employed, it's not as exciting as his presence in the old cartoon.
What Speed Racer really is about is the Wachowski brothers. They move the story at light speed and take a definite anime tact in their direction. Speed's "Oh!" reactions while racing, the long monologues by characters while heads and background flashbacks scroll in all kinds of directions and even Speed's famous leap out of the car and pose move is all here. Where they shift gears from the original show is adding a hyperactive candy colored digital world for Speed to play in. Everything looks fake and CGI as every color of the rainbow swirls around, flashing, streaking and smearing every which way.
It all adds up to what may be the most expensive live action anime film ever. There are moments of excitement yet the all digital look of Speed Racer makes it difficult to get fully engaged in any sense of realism. That and a bizarre decision to make the racing scenes look like cars flying down a water slide as they swerve up and down curves like a marble on a roulette wheel. As a fan of the original tv show I enjoyed Speed Racer a bit though as a film it's an empty experience. If you watch the 60's cartoon through a kaledoscope, you'd get the same effect. I can't say I regret seeing Speed Racer, just glad I didn't spend much to do it.