‘Speed Racer’ movie review: inside the Wachowski’s dazzling kaleidoscope

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A dazzling, breathless, ultimately exhausting experience, the Wachowski Brothers have certainly created something with their vision of Speed Racer; what that something is, however, is rather difficult to define. 

On one hand, it’s a nostalgia tour of the old Speed Racer cartoons – a predecessor to the worldwide influence of Japanese animation that were quickly and cheaply made, simplistic, and not really all that good, but hold a special place in our hearts anyway. 

On the other hand, it’s a no-holds-barred kaleidoscope of visual thrills that we can barely keep up with. It’s so familiar for viewers of the cartoon, so lovingly recreated, and yet visually, so wildly different to anything and everything we’ve seen before, that most viewers won’t know what to make of it.

But all our favorites are on hand: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), Mom and Pops (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman), Trixie (Christina Ricci), Sparky (Kick Gurry), Spritle (Paulie Litt) and Chim-Chim (played by a real chimpanzee, thankfully), Racer X (Matthew Fox), and everyone else. 

The plot involves corruption of power in the futuristic racing world, with evil Royalton (Roger Allam) attempting to draw Speed into his fold, and threatening the Racer family when he cannot; we’re not watching this for the plot, of course, but it’s competently executed, with an uplifting little guy vs. evil corporation theme. 

There’s ninja fights, hand-drawn animation fantasy sequences, impossible racetracks that look like video game creations and defy logic, and flashbacks-within-flashbacks-within-flashbacks. But to describe the experience is fruitless. 

And nothing looks real – outside of the actors, almost everything has been created digitally – but that’s not the point; there’s truly an artistic vision here, mad as it may be.

The editing is so hyper, and the film so visually unconventional, trying to dazzle the viewer in each and every frame; my eyes genuinely hurt by the end of the experience. 

There are two climatic races by the end, perhaps one more than a film can successfully sustain, and at 130 minutes, the film feels a tad too long (though I was certainly never bored). 

Yet I would call this ideal family fare (just don’t sit too close to the screen): younger viewers may genuinely be dazzled by the limitless visuals, and parents can bask in the nostalgia, which is so strong, at times, it brought a tear to my eyes (forgive me: it was the “go, speed racer, go!” chords that did it, finally striking up at the end of the big race). 

Unfortunately, Speed Racer has been horribly marketed, and the mega-budget, based-on-a-lousy-cartoon concept will make it easy prey for most critics. But don’t dismiss it as many will: this is truly something special.

Speed Racer

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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