After The Matrix trilogy, people would probably be disappointed if The Wachowski Brothers turned in a film that they could expect. The Brothers walk a fine line in their films in trying to both entertain and challenge their viewers while pushing the technological envelope. Sometimes it works brilliantly, as in the first Matrix film. Othertimes, like The Matrix Revolutions, it's just masturbation and the viewer leaves feeling bukkaked and ashamed. So what would they do with an adaptation of the highly mockable 70s anime, Speed Racer? As it turns out, make a fairly fun family film.
Employing the most convoluted villainy since The Phantom Menace's treachery involving tariffs and embargoes, the basic story is Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) and the Racer family going up against the big bad corporate guys (personified by Roger Allam) to prove that there's honor in they sport they love and that it's not about money and influencing the stock market.
At first, Speed Racer seems like a film that's constantly at odds with itself. The story and attitudes are fairly serious but it inhabits a candy-coated world that feels more like a game of Mario Kart on acid than anything matching the dramatic tension of the narrative. But once you settle in (and it takes about half an hour since you have to get through the slightly labored exposition and introductions) and accept the film on its own terms, the film is surprisingly fun. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis seems to have a bit of difficulty accepting their own film. When Speed Racer goes confidently in its live-action anime style with its dramatic story, then we're on board for the ride. But moments of forced comic-relief involving Spritle (Paulie Litt, who's quite good for a child actor, unlike the kid who plays young Speed) and Chim-Chim just push the goofiness to a place it doesn't need to go. The film is already fun and lighthearted without seeing a boy and his chimp rummage for candy.
Thankfully, as the film progresses, there's less and less Spritle/Chim-Chim shenanigans and more and more confidence in the style and story. And just as surprisingly enjoyable as the movie overall are the performances from Christina Ricci and Matthew Fox. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed seeing Ricci as much as I did with this film. As for Fox, he almost makes it through the entire film without tearing-up and that's quite an accomplishment seeing as he can't seem to go an episode of Lost without crying at least three or four times. But as the mysterious Racer X, Fox seems to be having fun with the role and displays a charisma that we rarely see in his episodic adventures.
If you can ease into Speed Racer and understand that you're going to be seeing the Wachowskis most difficult balancing act to date, you're going to not only appreciate this movie but enjoying it. But it's not for everyone and there's just no way of telling whether or not you’ll like it (although cynics probably should spend their money elsewhere). Just be warned: if you don't have epilepsy, you'll have it after seeing Speed Racer. If you see Speed Racer and already have epilepsy, you’ll die.