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Speed Racer

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A-

Directed by: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Written by: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Based on the television series by: Tatsuo Yoshida
Produced by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, Grant Hill and Joel Silver
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Paulie Litt, Roger Allam, Matthew Fox, Rain, Kick Gurry
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures

The transition that an animated series takes from being a Saturday morning cartoon towards turning into a cinematic live-action feature is most always a rocky one. Horrible efforts like Mr. Magoo and The Flintstones in Viva Las Vegas have left fans of those beloved 1960's characters with anger, this reviewer included. With Speed Racer, Andy and Larry Wachowski have succeeded in creating a big-screen version of a cult cartoon series worthy of being called an adaptation. The clichéd plot of the film is saved by interesting and funny characters, fun-filled action sequences and some of the most kinetic and fascinating visual effects work put on film. The former directors of The Matrix, a film which I personally dread, understand that they are essentially making a big-budget cartoon with live actors and do not take themselves seriously. And therein lies the fun that Speed Racer holds.

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) loves racing and throughout his whole live has wanted to be like his late brother, driving towards world records and the Grand Prix trophy. Even though the race tracks of his futuristic wonderland is filled with booby traps and other dangers, his family supports him. His father (John Goodman) is an independent race car maker, while his younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), mother appropriately named Mom (Susan Sarandon) and long-time girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) cheer at the sidelines. He also has a pet monkey called Chim-Chim, who provided some of the film's funniest moments. After a very successful race, Speed is given the chance to join a much bigger company lead by the usual smug, stereotypical British villain (Roger Allam). However, after a shocking revelation that racing is fixed, Speed teams up with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) and the trouble-arousing Taejo (Rain) to save the sport he holds so dearly to his heart.

The main focus of Speed Racer is entertainment and at that, it does a terrific job of pulling the audience in. The visual effects are incredibly well done and quite possibly some of the best ever brought to the film. The entire feature is one giant kaleidoscope of images springing towards the audience, almost giving it a 3-D feel. The Wachowski Brothers go for the opposite route of, say, Tim Burton and create a vibrant and colourful world that feels like diving inside a giant pool of Skittles. Many will accuse the filmmakers of trying to go for a video game approach for Speed Racer, but in the case of a film whose main theme is racing, it's appropriate. Not even the great minds at Pixar made a racing car film as exciting as this one and it will be especially hard to watch Formula 1 Racers driving around the curbs without thinking of the spectacular scenes that the Wachowskis have built. The Wachowskis have also in the process not only created something worthy of being called a Speed Racer adaptation, but a big-screen version of Super Mario Kart as well. The imaginations of those two are out of this world and they even trump the Nintendo people in race car weaponry.

However, Speed Racer doesn't become a well done film on the excitement level alone. The Racer family never comes across as snotty and the audience generally cares for them, even annoying little Spritle. Emile Hirsch does fine work as Speed and while the character is still relatively cardboard, he gives a good enough performance that we still root for him. Christina Ricci is a long way from Wednesday Addams providing the most anime-like portrayal in the film as Trixie. John Goodman is especially fun in the role of Pops and Matthew Fox's appropriately flat work as Racer X adds to the character's mystery. The only poor performance in the film comes from Stephen Colbert's arch-rival and Korean pop sensation Rain as Taejo, who is lively as the furniture that appears in the scenes with him. The best performance from the film, however, does not even comes from a human being as chimpanzees Willy and Kenzie prove to be a very engaging bunch as the mischievous Chim-Chim.

The other major positive of the film comes from Michael Giacchino's usual brilliant score. As proven by The Incredibles, he can write some really great action scores and Speed Racer is not exception. However, the main theme song from the television series will probably still in viewer's heads more and it is quite a lively tune indeed. Speed Racer is a film that should be best viewed in the cinema to get the true cinematic experience of it all, but on a good enough television set, it can hopefully provide a fun enough experience for the whole family. Despite its length of over two hours, the time flies by and the film proves to be incredibly engaging and it feels like the 1980's has nudged its way nicely to the 21st century.

The fantastical visuals of Andy and Larry Wachowski's Speed Racer.
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