No longer content to simply pluck and remake good Japanese creations such as Godzilla and The Ring, American movie studios may now be turning to the Land of the Rising Sun’s more sub-par offerings for inspiration — at least if Warner Bros. Entertainment’s candy-coated snoozefest Speed Racer signals anything. The movie takes the innocuous ’60s anime of the same name, and bloats it up with multi-colored, headache-inducing action sequences and uninteresting plot development. The end result: a film eyeing every age and demographic and overloading on material to get them, all against a backdrop resembling a neon bomb explosion in Willy Wonka’s factory.
The film focuses on Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), a quickly rising racecar driver who dazzles fans, media and corporate sponsors from behind the wheel of his souped up ride, the Mach 5. The evil head of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) tries to get Speed to join his race team, but the young racer stays loyal to his family’s business, run by Pops (John Goodman). Speed, with help from his family and the mysterious Racer X, aims to bring down the nefarious corporation by outing them as cheaters and beating them in a series of major races.
The folks behind Speed Racer obviously relied on the equations “old=great” and “Japanese=super awesome” to greenlight this film, because they clearly never saw an episode of the anime. The Speed Racer cartoon is beyond boring. I’ve seen boxes of Pocky more thrilling. The bland source material, however, gave the people behind the movie a chance to do whatever they wanted with this film.
They chose to cram it to the gills. The race scenes look like an odd hybrid of Mario Kart and Formula 1, while other vistas recall the color-happy world of ’60s and ’70s cartoons. Sometimes, however, trying to look unique hurts the film: One of its worst characteristics is an odd narrative style of giant heads moving across the screen while talking about what’s going on.
Speed Racer suffers from identity crisis as well, transitioning poorly between kid and adult moments in an attempt to imitate Shrek’s success. It would have worked better as a purely kid’s film. The plot seems simple enough for any toddler brain to comprehend, Chim Chim the monkey provides more than enough wacky animal relief, and the trippy action sequences are so hyperactive that a kid may be the only person able to follow them without hurling into a popcorn bag. Where Speed Racer tries to hook adults is, for lack of better racing metaphor, where it loses all fuel and smashes into the corner wall. Speed Racer frequently makes a detour from the action-packed races for (ugggggh) boring exposition. It should stick to what it does best, which is show explosion-heavy car races that look like a bowl of melted neopolitan ice cream.
For a film being promoted on its unique style, there isn’t enough to keep the movie consistently revving and, at more than two hours long, becomes a drag. Speed Racer deserves credit for looking good and being an update of a terribly bland show. The film, though, is too busy trying to entertain the audience to actually achieve entertainment along the way.