Review: 'Speed Racer' just spinning its wheels

Review: 'Speed Racer' just spinning its wheels


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The Wachowski brothers have tumbled into a matrix of their own with "Speed Racer," one which has rendered them completely out of touch with the outside world.

In adapting the 1960s Japanese anime television series, writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have created a noisy, overlong, mind-numbing extravaganza that seems tailor-made for nobody but themselves and their twisted sensibilities.

Their longtime producing partner Joel Silver insists in the production notes (which are almost as lengthy as the movie itself): "`Speed Racer' is for everybody."

Seriously?

At two hours and 15 minutes, it's way too long for little kids, the only ones for whom this explosion at a crayon factory would seem even vaguely entertaining. Adults seeking the nostalgia of their own childhood will just be disappointed, because "Speed Racer" the movie bears little resemblance to "Speed Racer" the TV cartoon.

And even racing fans will have trouble following the races, because they're edited in such a way that it's impossible to tell who's in the lead, who's gaining and where the finish line is (not to mention that the Wachowskis have obliterated the laws of gravity and physics, therefore negating the sport's innate logic). With "The Matrix" trilogy, this tactic of toying with reality was considered bold and innovative, and it put the notoriously reclusive Wachowskis on the map - whether they wanted to be there or not. Here, it just feels distractingly nonsensical, which makes it hard for the audience to connect with the material.

It's not like you can rely on the performances to make the experience worthwhile, either. "Speed Racer" wastes of the talents of people who truly can act and are capable of far more than functioning as cogs within such candy-coated chaos.

Emile Hirsch stars as Speed Racer, who likes to race and still misses his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), who died suspiciously in competition years ago. That's about all we know about him - and because his character is so underdeveloped, it's impossible to care whether he wins, loses, breaks any of Rex's records or even ends up in one piece.

Christina Ricci co-stars in the inert, thankless role of Speed's girlfriend, Trixie (though her enormous brown eyes and severe pixie cut do seem appropriately cartoonish), with Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as Mom and Pops Racer.

The story has something to do with the corrupt mogul Royalton (Roger Allam), who fixes races and wants to drag Speed over to the dark side of the sport.

Kids will love that!

But Speed is loyal to the family business, one of the few independently operated racing organizations, and he royally angers Royalton by turning down his lucrative offer. He then must defend himself against this corporate crook's schemes by teaming up with Racer X (Matthew Fox), who looks and drives suspiciously like Speed's deceased brother, and Japanese rival Taejo Togokahn, played by Korean pop star Rain in his first American film role.

Speed also gets help, somewhat, from his pesky younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), who has a knack for showing up at all the wrong times and all the wrong places with the family's pet chimpanzee, Chim-Chim. Basically, the two provide wedged-in moments of unfunny slapstick humor between the races.

It is kinda cute in one scene, though, when Spritle is wearing Paul Frank pajamas with the designer's signature monkey heads on them, and Chim-Chim is wearing an identical set decorated with little-boy heads. The costumes and production design do make "Speed Racer" tolerable at times with their evocative sense of mid-century kitsch, from the furniture and wallpaper to the dresses and even the tiny barrettes Trixie wears in her silky hair.

But "Speed Racer" is, of course and unfortunately, mainly about the races - a never-ending blur of lights and color, an overlapping cacophony of drivers and announcers, flying car parts and flailing crowds.

Afterward, the last thing you'll want to do is get into your own car. But you may have a craving for Skittles.

"Speed Racer," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG for sequences of action, some violence, language and brief smoking. Running time: 135 minutes. One star out of four.