I honestly didn?t know what to expect as I settled in to watch the Wachowski?s much-derided hyper-real live-action love letter to the Japanese anime ?Speed Racer?. I only saw a few eps of the original TV series and didn?t really like it that much, and I had been disappointed with the Matrix sequels. And of course there had been nothing but hatred for this movie when it originally came out in 2008. But I decided to give it a chance as one of the few positives I had heard about it was that it looked superb in HD.
The movie tells the story of a young driver called Speed Racer (OK, remember this is based on an anime series where such silliness abounds) who aspires to be the racing champion in a worldwide ?Wipeout?-esque racing championship. He does this with the help of his mechanic-genius father, uber-supportive mother and outrageously annoying younger brother (and his pet chimp). Oh, and course, he has his childhood sweetheart by his side throughout. Yup, simple characters, simple setup. All very by-the-numbers. Speed, naturally, comes to the attention of a nasty businessman who has been rigging the races and profiteering. Can Speed win the big race and be the downfall of the bad guy? And can he do it all in the shadow of his supposedly-dead big brother?
Cheesey is the dish of the day where the plot is involved, but cheesey in a purposefully-camp and anime/Saturday morning cartoon way. The film is unashamed of its love of the source material, and the brothers Wachowski have spent a fortune on recreating the look of the anime in real life. All the actors seem well aware of the need for some ham, and you can almost see the collective wink at the audience. But this doesn?t matter, because Speed Racer is one adrenaline-fueled action adventurer from start to finish. The larger than life racing sequences will stun and then blow your mind. A mix of car-fu and Wipeout, these scenes are staggering, and superbly brought to life. A clever blend of real, hyper-real and outrageous cartoon, the Wachowskis have created something unseen in any other film (the closest yet is in the animated movie Redline). Battling, jumping, bouncing, fighting racing cars?what isn?t there here to enjoy? Emile Hirsch does a good job of making these racing scenes look and feel real, even though in the quieter scenes he does munch on the scenery a bit. But then he is surrounded and outshone by the likes of Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman and Roger Allam, all of who are on fine form, albeit with tongue firmly lodged in cheek.
Of course, a film like this wouldn?t exist without a comedy sidekick (urgh!) and here we get two for the price of one (or possibly less!). Speed?s younger brother Spritle and his energetic chimp chum Chim Chim are the Sunny Delight/Haribo overdose the film could easily do without, but without whom it may not necessarily work. While they are insanely annoying, incredibly loud and aggravating and endlessly irritating, they add a real air of childishness and innocence to the movie and in a few scenes do actually earn their keep.
So, did I enjoy the film? Did the film deserve the slapping it got on release? Have the Wachowski?s directed another slice of Matrix-sequel-sick? Well, actually I did enjoy the film, a lot?.in fact it has rocketed in to my must-watch Blu-Ray list, the one I turn to when friends and family visit and say ?Oooh, what a large TV you have, can we watch something?? I loved the film (even with the annoying kid & his over-active chimp!) in all its hyper-real, rainbow-infused glory. The plot is as mad as a bucket of Bolivian bouncing bananas but that?s fine because it doesn?t pretend it isn?t. The film looks like nothing else I?ve ever seen (even Zack Snyder would have trouble topping this one for unique looks) and the clever blending of styles and sources works a treat. The race sequences are some of the finest entertainment on a TV I dare you find. I am a big Wipeout fan and here, writ large, is some filmic Wipeout (this is the game I am talking about, not that water-slide game thing with Richard Hammond on the BBC). I admire what the Wachowski?s were trying to do with this film. It definitely does the source anime proud, and is a wonderful, if intense, experience in HD. I heartily recommend it as a more healthy alternative to overdosing on fizzy cola bottles!