Born to race cars, Speed Racer is aggressive, passionate, instinctive and fearless. The only thing that overshadows him is the memory of the brother he idolized—the legendary Rex Racer, whose death in a race has left behind a legacy that Speed is driven to fulfill.
What better premise could a movie have? Action a plenty from those masters of action, the Wachowski brothers. But then the trailer came out, everything was brightly candy coated and overdone with CGI. Expectations suddenly dropped like a bunch of lead balloons. Speed Racer was destined to fail.
So it was with little anticipation that I took the family along to a screening so Speed Racer, the kids might get a kick out of it I figured. My fatalistic expectations were fulfilled from the beginning of the movie, I could se why it had bombed overseas; the acting was wooden, the scrip was bad and the graphics, whilst very smooth, were totally over the top.
But then something happened. Speed took center stage, we began to see what kind of a man he was, his determination, passion, his underdog status and we cheered for him. My middle child Aimee started pumping her fist in the air silently chanting ‘Go Speed, Go!’
The cheesiness of it didn’t matter, Speed Racer was a feel good movie fuelled by a massive candy coated sugar rush. It was a welcome relief to the more demanding, more serious grown up movies that abound Hollywood.
It was in a word, refreshing.
It’s then that the genius of it hit me. The Wachowski brothers hadn’t dropped the ball, rather they’d thrown a curved one. Speed racer was not the all out action spectacular we had expected from the makers of The Matrix. No, this was a (albeit overpriced) children’s movie through and through. More than that, it was a digital re-imaging of the Saturday morning cartoon genre.
The brothers had redefined an entire genre.
Speed Racer was a flawed masterpiece. Flawed in their inability to edit it to a more child friendly length, flawed in what it cost to make, but a masterpiece non-the-less. Doomed to failure because people wouldn’t realise until it was too late that to enjoy it, you needed to take some children along with you, to open you eyes to the child-like simplicity and joy of candy coloured CGI, and to close your eyes to the wooden acting and predictable plot.
Food for thought:
Speed makes a bold statement early in the movie, “When I’m in a T-180… everything just makes sense.” For Speed, to drive well is what ignites him with both passion and purpose. Racing was what he was created to do, what he does best. Through his racing he not only begins to make sense of his life, but he helps everyone else see how much better the world can be.
Milka Duno, who plays Kellie Gearbox, is an actual professional race car driver in the Indy Racing League.
Danica Patrick was reportedly offered a cameo but declined secondary to racing commitments with Andretti Green Racing and the Indy Racing League.
Peter Fernandez, the voice of Speed Racer and Racer X in the original cartoon series, plays the Race Announcer in this movie.
Keanu Reeves turned down the role of Racer X.
The view inside Speed’s locker at the start of the film shows his watch to be a Heuer Monaco Sportiva, the same watch worn by Steve McQueen in the classic racing film Le Mans (1971).
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read.
Rating: PG – Contains violence.
Duration: 135 mins.
Genre: Action Childrens.
Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski.
Actors: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox.
Release Date: Out now.