Speed Racer is one of the greatest family-friendly eastern animations ever created, so its 2008 live-action adaption was probably an inevitability.
The film had been stuck in development hell since 1992 until the Wachowskis, of The Matrix fame, took over its direction in the mid-2000s.
Unfortunately, it probably could’ve used another decade or two in the slow cooker before it became reality.
As far as Speed Racer storylines go, it’s bread-and-butter fare. The monolithic Royalton Industries attempts to purchase Racer Motors in an attempt to increase their stranglehold on the World Racing League by any means possible.
When the eponymous hero declines, E.P. Arnold Royalton reveals the WRL’s history of race-fixing and threatens to end his career.
The league’s investigative body, led by Inspector Detector, recruits Speed to expose Royalton and protect competitor Taejo Togokahn during a dangerous cross-continental rally race. He’s aided by the mysterious Racer X, later revealed to be Speed’s presumed-dead older brother, Rex.
I’ll go on record saying that John Goodman as Pops was a stroke of genius, and few roles are not elevated by Susan Sarandon’s grace, including her performance as Mom Racer.
Emile Hirsch plays the role of Speed Racer, hot off his role as Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. Hirsch does an ~okay~ job as Speed, but he receives little to no help from his supporting cast.
Matthew Fox delivers a muted, smirking performance as Racer X that very likely tanked his post-LOST career and ruined a then-inevitable chance to play Batman. RIP.
Spritle, the well beloved and mischievous youngest Racer, is nigh unrecognizable in Paulie Litt’s whining mitts.
The … Accents?
The remainder of the cast is littered with little-known names and Dollar General versions of our favorite stars, many of which stutter and growl their way through the film with questionable accents.
Speed Racer was a global cartoon, set in glittering international locales and crowded with racers and villains from a broad spectrum of countries, real and fictional.
So, while I appreciate the effort and attention given to that aspect of the source material, at least make the accents believable … or even just consistent for individual characters.
Is that henchman Australian or Austrian? Who’s to say?
The Visual Direction
The original cartoon, called MachGoGoGo in Japan, featured a dizzying array of creative setpieces.
The Wachowskis did their best, given that this was released in 2008. The film is a dizzying kaleidoscope of neon-CGI vomit. I don’t fault them for that. It’s 2008.
(That being said, the rapid-fire CGI scenes during races and such are a bit much. It’s hard to hold onto your lunch watching.)
What I do fault them for, however, is their decision to blend media. Yes, Speed Racer/MachGoGoGo is an anime. No, you didn’t need to try and incorporate anime scenes into a CGI-heavy live-action film.
If paying homage to the source material while playing with updated technologies was the goal, why not animate the whole ordeal? A year and a half later, Imagi Studios would release Astro Boy in the exact style that would have satisfied Speed Racer fans.
I’d like a mulligan, please. I don’t need a gritty reboot of Speed Racer. I just want a nice, family friendly film that won’t make me dizzy while sitting on my couch.
Speed Racer (2008) is a Don’t Bother.
However, if you need to fill a Saturday or two with your kids, a partner or maybe just your favorite intoxicating substance, check out the American-dubbed Speed Racer cartoon or the original Japanese MachGoGoGo.
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