“Speed Racer” is crazy awesome. The Wachowski Brothers have made a live action cartoon. Not a live action movie that adapts a cartoon, like previous failures including "Scooby Doo" or another John Goodman movie, "The Flintstones." Those movies attempted to strike a balance between the real world and the cartoon one, conveying neither convincingly. The Wachowski, instead, throw the idea of balance out the window and decide that this isn’t an adaptation of a cartoon, it is cartoon, that just happens to have real people in it. An attitude like that probably wouldn’t have worked for most movies.
However, the extensive use of green screen effects changes those chances of failure. The entire film has an exaggerated, overly colorful, animated look to it that totally establishes in the audience’s mind that this is something different. While “Sin City” and “300” have tried before, “Speed Racer” is the first time the green screen effects truly displaces the viewer into another world. "Speed Racer" is a candy-colored kaleidoscope of hyperactive kookiness.
The action sequences, which aren’t limited to car races by the way, are the pinnacle of this technology. Car racing has never been engaging to me. Didn't watch NASCAR as a kid and have never been a fan of the "Fast and Furious" movies. The Wachowskis film the car races like the fight scenes in "The Matrix." This is exactly as insane as it sounds. Cars jumping up and flipping around, deflecting projectiles, battling each other. I suppose it's just a question of wither or not you buy the universe created on-screen. If you do, I honestly found some of the action scenes exciting and unpredictable. The story is composed of several long races, obviously, and the directors find a way to fill each with real “Hell yeah!” moments.
It's that dual quality of being completely over-the-top and yet totally sincere that makes the movie work for me. Like a big budget version of the Adam West Batman movie. This is ridiculous to a high degree and everybody is in on it, not cracking a smile once. The cast is totally in on the game. I'm not sure if John Goodman is even aware of how absurd everything he is. He's such a total professional, he brings the same level of stately understanding to every role he plays. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast are definitely aware that they are playing cartoon characters. Susan Sarandon smiles and plays mom, totally sincere in her love for her children and family. Christina Ricci exaggerates her normal level of pixie adorableness to its farthest reaches. Matthew Fox gives the best performance. Stone-faced, moving as awkwardly as the original cartoon character, he even sounds like Racer X did on the show. Emile Hirsch is admittedly a little flat. Of course, Speed has always been the least interesting character in his own show.
Swear to God, I'm not crazy here. I found the familial drama in the film to be genuinely touching at times. Listening to two characters talk about how much car racing means to them, how they bound over it, is ridiculous on paper. Of course, the rest of the movie is ridiculous too. So I guess I just bought. Hey, fathers and sons bond over real life stuff much more goofy then that. The love and togetherness of the family is obviously the main theme of the entire movie. And who doesn't want a family that will stand by you in everything, even when racing through a desert while evil doers fling bee hives at you?
The plot is oddly complicated. I mean, what more do you need in a "Speed Racer" movie besides race scenes? But there's gangsters and attempts by evil businessmen to manipulate the stock market with race scores. I suppose that's no less wacky then anything else in the movie but it feels a little out-of-place in a kid's film. Roger Allam totally sells it though, each line dripping with over-the-top villainy.
Another big issue is that the movie peaks too early. After 120 minutes of brutal car battles and hilariously over-the-top fight scenes, the climax feels too easy. Speed blasts through the finish lines, decimating all of his enemies. This is probably in keeping with anime conventions, but I feel he should have been challenged right up the finish line instead of the way it actually goes.