True to advance word-of-mouth, the Wachowski Brothers’ big-screen Speed Racer is a candy-coated visual extravaganza. It’s also worth noting, however, that this is one mixed bag of candy-coated confection. The race scenes are terrific, and the occasional fight scenes are well-executed, but any detour into emotional subtext brings the film to a … wait for it … screeching halt. “Speed bumps.” “Wrong turns.” Okay, I think that will be enough of the driving metaphors for me, for now.
This is a kids’ movie, no doubt about it. But, it’s not really a “family film,” insomuch that adults will probably find themselves watching the clock throughout the way-too-long 120 minutes. Yet, the explosions of vibrant, colorful sequences are almost worth it. Almost. The Wachowskis know what they’re doing, and they even calculate a few inventive editing tricks to communicate plot points. What’s really lacking, though, is any sense of story and believable emotion. This makes Speed Racer less like The Matrix and more like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. There’s even a Jar Jar Binks: in the form of Paulie Litt, as Speed’s kid brother Spritle.
Not to be a Monday morning quarterback, but it’s a poor sign when you find yourself wishing a film explored certain territory before it was even over. Why wasn’t there more of a grown-up sense of humor? Even Pixar movies make it a point to not forget the adults in the room. The sports world is an easy target for satire and parody, but Speed Racer takes itself way too seriously to have any fun. If Speed Racer proves anything, it’s that the Wachowskis still know how to crack open a tense and kinetic action sequence. It’s possible they listened to the criticism of the last two Matrix films too closely. Instead of lightening up on the mythology and the angst, they strip it entirely away to make room for canned family drama and cliched good-versus-evil storylines.
What I can feel good about, besides the dazzling effects and intense action, is the way it all ends. Let’s just say, unlike almost every other property-based blockbuster you’re gonna see between now and August, Speed Racer doesn’t leave it open for more. I don’t think we’re gonna see a sequel anytime soon. And, after watching it for myself, I think I can say we’re not gonna need one.