Here's what is quite probably the most expensive live-action anime film adaptation ever made making it basically Hollywood's biggest risk financially dipping its toe in that genre. Similarly to how the Astro Boy CGI feature lost about 20 million at the box-office, Speed Racer did make money but was ultimately a flop, losing over 25 million.
But that doesn't mean anything quality-wise, after all, Blade Runner, The Thing and The Night Of The Hunter were all flops in their day.
Speed Racer, however, is no Blade Runner.
Right off the bat, you are thrown into a multicoloured CGI world so visually rainbowed that you'd think it was yet another Dr Seuss fairy tale come to life in movie form. The thing basically looks like an even more stylised The Cat In The Hat, with less talking cats and more bouncing cars. Directed by the Wachowski broth-... siblings, of The Matrix trilogy fame, Speed Racer takes a very old anime series and makes it into a full-blown candy-coloured kids' sci-fi action movie. But where the cartoon was simple and enjoyably campy, Speed Racer seems to aim for something big and iconic so the plot is much more convoluted than you'd expect: flashbacks upon flashbacks outlining every character's emotions about certain events, endless conversations only there to serve as mini vocal factories of exposition, doubles twists, every car race has its own subplot... This should not have been this complicated! And at a heavy 2 hours and 10 minutes, honestly, Speed Racer feels like it's at least 3 hours long. There's a genuine attempt to keep things interesting from start to finish with big, loud, insane action sequences and an over-stylisation of everything, with people transitioning into other people or other scenes non-stop, thereby giving the film the illusion of fluidity. Unfortunately, this backfires and leaves no time for the film to breathe and therefore no time for us to care for those characters or their shockingly uninteresting and clichéd story. The film goes too far with the racing scenes, to the point where they become overwhelming and ultimately incomprehensible and the stuff in between is just dull. Christina Ricci's in this movie but the film itself forgets about her about halfway through and, by the end, you'll forget she was even in the thing. John Goodman, who plays Speed Racer's father (yes, Speed Racer is his actual, LEGAL name), a major character in the anime, is given little to nothing to do until the last half hour where he thankfully perks up a little. As for Susan Sarandon, she mostly smiles and makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Getting these colourful, potentially fun characters to do something other than have soporific conversations about stuff kids won't give a crap about should have been a priority and had the film been one hour shorter, perhaps we would have had just the right amount of everybody.
Matthew Fox plays the mysterious Racer X and actually does a decent job, making you wish you were watching a movie about him instead of Emile Hirsch's forgettable titular character. The villains are cartoonish and belong either in those old Batman TV series, Scooby-Doo or Dick Tracy but that's honestly fine. I actually wish the film had been more of a 60's throwback to stuff like that or Wacky Races than this overblown modern CGI mess. As for the annoying kid and his annoying monkey, who were both annoying even in anime form... guess what? They're pretty annoying here too, though they do get some fun anime spoof moments. Flop blockbuster-wise, Speed Racer is basically the Lone Ranger of its day: it's criminally too long, bloated with misguided action sequences that come way too late (the first proper race happens at the 1 hour mark), juvenile jokes, tacked-on romance, a hero you don't really care about and a plot far too confused for its own good. It's really a shame because there's a really awesome film in there somewhere. The Wachowskis have made what is quite probably the most colourful film ever made, just about beating The Wizard Of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Stylistically, there are some good ideas in there and some terrific shots. The image of Speed Racer's car screeching to a halt right in front of the camera as parts of the tyres subtly melt onto the hot race-track is a genuinely epic one but cool shots like that are drowned in a sea of visual nonsense that is far more alienating than it was, no doubt, intending to be. Hell, the race scenes in Wreck-It Ralph felt far more real and tangible than those in Speed Racer and that was an actual all-CGI cartoon!
It's really good to see an anime series get this kind of full-on Hollywood treatment and, under the right circumstances, I would personally like to see much more of those. A similar budget in a Dragonball film, for example, would open things up to more possibilities than Dragonball Evolution could have ever hoped for. Sadly, Speed Racer just wasn't the right pick. This should have been a Death Race meets The Cannonball Run meets The Green Hornet type of deal, not a two-hour long epic about nothing whatsoever! The Wachowskis clearly cared about the source material, that definitely shows, and, in its last half hour, the film displays a handful of good little moments hinting at a possibly better movie we'll likely never see. Perhaps a Director's Cut could, at least, get rid of an hour's worth of useless chatter and exposition? I mean, are kids really going to be interested in the villain's stock market scams? The dark underbelly of futuristic racing? Blackmails involving the main character's dead relatives?
As it stands, I just can't recommend Speed Racer. It's far too bloated, far too long and far too uneven pace-wise to be worth your time. If you're a fan of the show, I'd say maybe check it out once out of pure curiosity if you find the DVD for a good price. Otherwise, if you're a fan of the Wachowskis' other stuff or whatever, don't bother. Yes the film is colourful and has its minor decent moments but overall it's mostly just one big green-screen-heavy headache.
Dragonball Evolution was better.
Need I say more?