In the assaulting, astonishing sound-and-light show that Matrix brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski based on the ’60s Japanese animated TV series Mach GoGoGo, Pops Racer (John Goodman) is a mechanic turned car designer, Mom (Susan Sarandon) is the family’s emotional center and a font of dewy wisdom, older brother Rex (Scott Porter) is a champion racer who disappears after a car crash, and young Speed (Emile Hirsch) is the tyro driver ready to win the big rallies against formidable drivers and a rigged system. The men in the Racer clan could be the garage geeks who paved Silicon Valley with cybergold or Hollywood’s visual-effects alchemists, translating their fantasies into pixels to create gorgeous movies like these. Speed Racer is a hymn to practical ingenuity and manual dexterity, to real American innovators like Edison and Ford, Steve Wozniak and Dale Earnhardt — to the grease monkey as genius.
The entire film exists in another, nether, Neverland where standard narrative and visual decisions are dismissed as way too confining. In the big races, no actual cars were used; the magnificent set pieces are almost totally animated. The races aren’t just 200 miles of left turns; the tracks are designed as crazy theme-park rides, with 360-degree loops, chasm-wide broken tracks, roads that wind around mountains and across rivers. Here, the texture is the text, and it’s deliriously dense, with more than 2,000 effects shots, often layered on top of one another. More than the story of the Racer family, Speed Racer is the visual autobiography of the Wachowskis and their pit crew of computer-nerd Einsteins, using the tools of their trade to transform the movie medium. The effect, if you get into it, is more than a store window of technology. It is, as Mom says of Speed’s mastery behind the wheel, “inspiring, and beautiful, and everything art should be.”
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